Brad Meccariello saw limited action as an eighth-grader at Hilton Head Christian. The first-year player spent most of his time learning from the sideline rather than developing out on the field.
But that didn't keep him from making his impact felt in the final game that season, when he sealed the Eagles' state championship over Orangeburg Prep with a title-clinching interception. His performance that day began a pattern that has seen him lead his team to the SCISAA Class 2-A finale each November since, culminating with Saturday's clash against Florence Christian in Columbia.
"It's do or die the whole playoffs, not even just in the state championship," he said. "I want to take the team as far as we can go. You've got to be able to pull it out from within you each game in the playoffs."
Meccariello has had little trouble locating his inner immortal in any of his title game appearances. He rushed for a pair of scores against Thomas Sumter as a sophomore and followed up a year later with the game-tying and go-ahead touchdowns against Thomas Heyward, before sealing a victory with an interception on the Rebels' final drive.
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He hopes to add to his heroics in Benedict College's Charlie W. Johnson Stadium this weekend, where he will conclude his high school career with what could be a fourth ring for his collection.
"I don't think anyone has done that here, ever," he said. "I'm excited for the opportunity for Saturday to come around."
Meccariello's senior season has been unique. His first four years were spent largely as a scat back of sorts, with the speedy runner lining up at receiver and running back in addition to his duties at safety. But he stepped under center this season for coach Ryan Mitch and has thrived, leading the Eagles to nine straight wins following an 0-2 start.
"He's the best leader we could possibly ask for at that position," Mitch said. "He's the best competitor we could ask for. If the game is on the line, him and (running back Deo'Vonte) Doe are getting the ball. That's what it comes down to."
Meccariello's success did not come easy. He struggled in the passing game early on, as the Eagles failed to successfully install Mitch's spread offense, while leading the team to its two lowest point totals of the season.
But an increased concentration on the run game led to his resurgence. He has rushed for 1,051 yards and 10 scores this season out of the Eagles' diamond and read option formations, averaging 8.8 yards per carry, and kept defenses honest with his 930 passing yards and eight touchdowns.
He has teamed with Doe to guide a potent Eagles offense that has averaged 42.8 points per game during this nine-game stretch. He has added nine interceptions on defense, though playing both ways proved difficult at times as he continued to learn under center, he said.
"He's truly made our running game a huge threat, because at any time on any play, he can pull the ball out of there and go 50 yards," Mitch said. "Or if we need four yards, we know that we can run him behind our offensive line and he's going to put his head down and make somebody miss."
Meccariello hopes to add one final chapter to his legacy against Florence Christian. If recent history is any indication, he may have little trouble in doing so.
"He just makes plays when the team needs it," Mitch said. "He steps up and rises to the occasion."
SCISAA CLASS 2-A FOOTBALL STATE CHAMPIONSHIP
Who: Hilton Head Christian Academy vs. Florence Christian
When: Noon, Saturday
Where: Charlie W. Johnson Stadium, Benedict College, Columbia