It’s officially designated Week Zero around here, for reasons not exactly clear even to many of those closely associated with high school athletics. The NFL doesn’t play a Week Zero, nor does college football. Even the folks who gave us a 14-team Big Ten and 10-team Big 12 haven’t gone there yet.
It’s a weekend to celebrate firsts — first game of the new season, first snap, first touchdown, maybe a first win. And on this Friday, the Lowcountry has more significant firsts than usual.
As such, the first edition of the Friday “Five to Watch” will be heavy on firsts. Hey, everyone likes to be first; nobody wants to be a zero.
1. Take your first bow, May River.
The curtain rises on Beaufort County’s newest high school, though you’ll have to hit the road to see it. The Sharks travel to Hanahan, which went 8-3 last year and thwarted Hilton Head Island’s quest for an unbeaten regular season.
Yeah, it could be a tough opening act.
Nonetheless, it’s a chance for coach Rodney Summers to get answers to the questions he asked in those first informational meetings back in the spring. Who’s going to take the first snap? Make the first tackle? Grab the first interception? Score the first touchdown?
“We’ve just got to find our way and build our own program,” said Summers, who needed two years to build Westwood into a playoff team. The Redhawks now are among the state favorites in Class 4A.
For inquiring minds, the Sharks’ first home game isn’t for another two weeks. Talk about dragging out the anticipation.
2. A rivalry brews as Thomas Heyward and Ridgeland-Hardeeville play their first game.
Though their campuses sit less than two miles apart, the Rebels’ short jaunt to Jaguar territory marks the first time the Ridgeland schools have played each other. Possibly in anything.
“That’s very surprising,” said Jaguars coach Jahmaal Nelson, who worked nearly a year with THA’s Nic Shuford to make it happen.
“We both agree that this is something that’s long overdue for the community. It’s been too long for it to go on this way.”
The schools have a two-year agreement, with the Jaguars visiting Thomas Heyward next year. Both coaches hope it won’t take too long to extend that agreement.
It should be an interesting matchup on the field. Though Ridgeland-Hardeeville plays in Class 3A, it’s coming off a 2-8 season with a roster not much larger than SCISA’s Rebels.
“Based on the number of As, they’ve got the advantage,” Shuford quipped. “The kids are real excited about it. Ridgeland is not a huge town, and the way they’re looking at is they’re becoming a part of history.”
3. One year after its first season, John Paul II gets another.
That’s because the Golden Warriors’ fling with 8-man football lasted just one season. With its growing enrollment, JP2 eventually was bound to convert to the 11-man game at some point. No time like the present, right?
With coach Kevin Wald migrating north from Hilton Head Prep, the Golden Warriors are set to embark on the first year of Version 2.0 when they visit Hilton Head Christian. The majority of last year’s squad is back, though it’s little more than historical prologue.
For Wald, it isn’t all that much different than what Summers is doing at May River, albeit with about one-third the numbers.
“I think now that we’ve set the foundation, we’ve got stability,” Wald said. “With that foundation built, it’s time to start the climb up.”
4. Another second set of firsts arrive for veteran coaches Dave Adams and Fred Hamilton.
Adams, now at Hilton Head Prep, ends a nine-year hiatus from the sideline after stepping away as Bluffton’s athletics director last spring. He also coached the Bobcats for four years before a change in county policy forced him to pick one job or the other.
He inherits a team that reached the second round of the SCISA playoffs last year, though the Dolphins are learning new schemes on both sides of the ball.
“They’re still learning me; I’m still learning them,” Adams said.
Battery Creek’s Hamilton hasn’t so much been absent from the sideline as from a place he hated to leave 14 years ago.
Family concerns prompted him to leave the Dolphins for West Ashley, and he was defensive coordinator at Fort Dorchester for several years before the BC gig opened up again.
“I did want this job worse than any job I’ve ever wanted in my life,” he said.
5. It isn’t exactly a first, but Bluffton has a solitary spotlight with its Saturday game.
The Bobcats open in Georgia Southern’s Paulson Stadium as part of the Erk Russell Classic, where they take on Georgia’s powerful Screven County.
Bluffton and Fort Dorchester are the first South Carolina teams invited to the Classic, which has over five years into a four-game showcase to whet the appetite before the college season kicks off.
“That’s huge,” Bobcats coach Ken Cribb said. “That’s some great high school football out there. We’re excited about the opportunity and the challenge. It’s big, real big.”
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