High School Sports

Passing it down the line: Eagles' success tied to string of standout QBs

Although he wasn't a quarterback himself and the signal-callers were never his direct charges, Tommy Lewis paid close attention throughout his time as a player and assistant coach at William & Mary to how head coach Jimmye Laycock and offensive coordinator Zbig Kepa tutored the leaders of the offense.

One day, Lewis knew, he would be a head coach. And to be successful, he would have to be able to mold young quarterbacks into effective leaders.

"I got to spend 10 years with (Laycock) and his assistant coaches, all on the offensive side of the ball," Lewis said. "I always had my ears open whenever he was talking to the quarterback out on the field."

The eavesdropping paid off in a big way for Lewis, whose Hilton Head Christian Academy team will play in the SCISAA Class 2-A championship game for the fourth time in five years Saturday, taking on Thomas Sumter Academy at 3:30 p.m. at Benedict College in Columbia.

The Eagles haven't made it that far so often -- and won titles in 2006 and 2009 -- by accident. They've done it in large part because they've had outstanding quarterbacks who have flourished under Lewis' tutelage.

"The leadership role that he puts on you and the way that he teaches the offense and how to read the defenses, that's really the main thing that I've gotten from him," senior quarterback Luke Sirgo said. "I'm able to go out and look at a defense and know who's going to be open, and if they're not open, what do I do with the ball. I'm able to stay calm and just be the leader that he taught me how to be."

Sirgo, who has passed for 7,552 yards and 94 touchdowns in three seasons as the Eagles' starting quarterback, is just the latest in a line of star quarterbacks who have guided Hilton Head Christian's high-powered spread offense.

Gabe Gilmour was a standout at the position in 2005 and 2006, leading the Eagles to their first state title in his senior year and helping establish the program as a perennial private-school powerhouse. Gilmour left as the school's all-time leading rusher (2,226 yards) and all-time leading passer (4,375 yards) -- though Sirgo has since shattered his passing mark -- and he accounted for 80 touchdowns in two full seasons and one partial season as the starter.

Sirgo took over the reigns as a sophomore in 2008, inheriting the job from Joey Davis. Davis was no slouch as a signal-caller, accounting for 1,946 total yards and 19 touchdowns as a junior while leading the Eagles to the 2007 title game, where they lost to rival Hilton Head Prep. But rather than take on another season leading the offense, Davis wanted to play a bigger role on defense, something he knew Lewis wouldn't allow his starting quarterback to do.

So he did his part to facilitate the transition to Sirgo.

"Joey Davis played a huge role in making that happen," Lewis said. "Joey really took Luke under his wing and really filled in the gaps in my coaching. When I was done for the day and walking off the field, Joey and Luke stayed out on the field."

Davis spent time working one-on-one with Sirgo in the offseason, trying to help prepare him for the leap from junior varsity. Sirgo said Davis was able to serve as a translator of sorts, explaining complicated concepts in a way he could understand them.

"He was a big mentor," Sirgo said. "I thank him every day."

Now the Eagles have Sirgo to thank for much of their success the past two years, which could culminate with the school's first back-to-back championships Saturday.

Through weight training and relentless film study -- "repetition, repetition, repetition," Lewis said -- Sirgo has developed into the most prolific passer in school history, and with more than 1,200 rushing yards the past two seasons, he has become a threat on the ground, as well.

With yet another game-changing player at quarterback, Lewis continues to have success on the basis of the tips he picked up at William & Mary, and it's no wonder the Eagles are on the cusp of their third title in five years.

"There are many players in any sport that you start with either they've got it or they don't. You're not really going to develop anyone beyond what they're capable of," Lewis said. "Fortunately we've been able to identify those kids early on and get kids in the right positions so they can start working on those things."