High School Football

High School Football Coach of the Year: Mark Clifford, Beaufort High

sfastenau@beaufortgazette.comDecember 24, 2013 

Change was coming even before the Beaufort High School football team began spring practice.

Numbers weren't the same as they had been in past years. Consecutive seasons without a playoff game bred frustration.

Beaufort High coaches knew something would change when they piled in a Dodge 1500 early in the year to visit clinics at Clemson and South Carolina.

They studied aspects of the read option, heard from Tigers coaches that tempo was king, and how many plays they should strive to squeeze into four quarters. They heard from former Nevada football coach Chris Ault, credited with the rise of "The Pistol" offense.

They sat next to Steve Spurrier and Danny Ford.

By the time the Eagles took the field in the spring, the resulting offense still had a familiar look. But the Eagles were no longer under center.

"Beaufort," Eagles coach Mark Clifford said of what the final product resembled. "It just developed. We named it the split-back speed gun."

Clifford says his biggest contribution was to yell for the backfield to work faster, faster, faster. The Beaufort Gazette and The Island Packet's Football Coach of the Year, proud of his rigid stance with the offensive scheme in past years, OK'd the move to shotgun because of how fast the plays developed.

Sitting around a desk in Clifford's classroom after the season, offensive line coach Logan Powell joked about what other coaches might say if they visited Beaufort High for a clinic.

The Eagles ran the sweep and trap and counter and isolation. Nothing new in football circles, but the combination of the speed, blocking schemes and flexibility of the backs helped the plays hit differently each time.

"It's hard to break us down and realize what we're running, even though it's the same play," Clifford said. "A sweep is a sweep, but you don't know if it is the sweep or iso. Just kind of give them the ball and let them find the hole."

In addition to the new look, coaches decided their best players would have to play both sides of the ball. Depth was once a luxury at the Class 4-A school. But numbers were off to start the year and the resulting shuffle meant players like Kentrell Seabrook, a dominant defensive lineman, would also play right tackle.

Andrew Smyth played center and linebacker. Mike Rentz, who started three years at guard, also played some defense his final high school season.

Next came the attitude adjustment.

In Clifford's classroom adjacent to the gymnasium, a poster lists each senior class and its final record. Players sign beside their names.

Seniors from the 2012 season had signed off on a 4-7 season. In 2011, they signed for 5-6.

This most recent group proved different.

Players' seemingly lax attitudes towards practice might have proved alarming any other year. The Eagles were only acting as if they knew what they were capable of Friday night. Little else mattered.

Five consecutive wins to start the season backed up their case. Beaufort High defeated rival Bluffton, then Fort Dorchester and then Blythewood to open the Class 4-A playoffs.

Questions were answered. This senior class will sign for a 9-4 season.

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