The morning phone calls are different this week.
Sumter football coach Reggie Kennedy and Dutch Fork assistant J.W. Montgomery, lifelong friends and college teammates, still talk before work, as they have for years. But this week, as their teams prepare to face each other on Saturday in the Class 4A Division 1 championship game, the conversation is a bit stilted.
“He did call me this morning, but we kind of talk around the question of the game plan. You can tell there are some things we’re not saying, the conversation’s a little different,” Kennedy said on Monday.
“Normally when we talk, we’re always talking about football, different strategies, but this week, we’ve just been talking mainly about our families. We don’t want to give the other any tips on what we might do,” Montgomery said.
Not talking football is difficult for Kennedy and Montgomery, schoolmates since kindergarten. As teammates in high school they helped East Clarendon to the Class A championship in 1985, then played together at South Carolina State. Through their careers, Montgomery and Kennedy have worked together occasionally — as in their year as assistant coaches at Lake City — but supported each other always.
This will be the third time they have faced each other from opposing sidelines. The first was in 2008, when Montgomery was the coach at Lower Richland and Kennedy at Fairfield Central. They met again while Kennedy was at Blythewood, when the Bengals faced the Silver Foxes.
“We’ve coached across the field from each other before, but never in a game of this magnitude,” Kennedy said.
For Kennedy, it is his first shot at a state title as a head coach.
“It’s good to be here, especially with this group,” said Kennedy, who is in his first season at Sumter.
“I’ve been to the semifinals four times, so it’s excellent to finally be in the championship game,” he said.
Kennedy’s Gamecocks overcame a 1-4 start and defeated Summerville and legendary coach John McKissick in the semifinals to reach the championship game with a record of 9-5.
“When he was going down to Summerville, I talked to him and we felt good about it and he was very excited,” said Montgomery, the Dutch Fork wide receivers coach. “After we were finished and won at Byrnes, the first thing I wanted to do was find out how he did.
“I’m incredibly excited for him, to be in the championship. We never thought that it would come down to us having to go against each other to win a ring,” he said.
Although Montgomery is in tune with his friend’s coaching philosophy and remembers a lot of Kennedy’s offensive play-calling signals, he will not be giving the Silver Foxes an advantage that way.
“I told them this week, they can’t count on me for that, because I’m sure he’s going to switch it up ,” Montgomery said.
Right, Kennedy said.
“He’s very competitive and I’m very competitive, but at the end of the day, we always say, blood is thicker than water,” Kennedy said. “It’s going to be fun. We just know we’re going to be at it for two hours and after that we’re going to be best of friends again.”