For Pelion coach Ben Freeman, a year’s worth of waiting ended on Monday when the Shrine Bowl Sandlapper all-star squad hit the practice field at Spartanburg High.
“It’s been almost a year since I found out I was going to get to coach this team, and there’s been a lot of anticipation, so it’s nice to finally have the kids here and get them out on the field together,” Freeman said.
The year of combines and film review was, in many ways, like fantasy football. For Saturday’s Shrine Bowl at Wofford College, Freeman and the Sandlappers look to bring his vision to life.
Freeman’s staff of all-star assistants includes Chapin coach Justin Gentry and Jeff Calabrese, the coach of the Class 3A state finalist Hartsville squad.
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“It’s one of the things that is so great about all-star football,” Freeman said. “There’s so much knowledge on this staff, we’re all learning from each other, and we took some things that each of our teams do best and put it together to give our team the best chance for success.”
For all the eagerness, Shrine Bowl week began on a calm note. The Sandlappers spent the weekend checking players in, handing out equipment and getting to know their players.
At the first team meeting on Sunday evening, Freeman set a tone of high expectations and low pressure.
“We told them, they’re all-stars and we’re going to treat them and coach them like all-stars,” he said. “We’re going to try to keep it fun for them, but we’ve got a week, and everyone knows what we’re trying to accomplish.”
The Sandlapper all-star squad is looking for South Carolina’s third consecutive win over North Carolina’s Tarheels. South Carolina leads the Shrine Bowl series 43-30-4, and Freeman is confident he has the right group to keep the streak going.
“I can just tell that they are getting along together well. We’ve got not only some great athletes but some great kids,” Freeman said. “It’s neat to see all the kids from the different programs around the state, some of them that played each other during the season, and they’re coming together here for a common goal.”
Chapin offensive lineman Stephen Haralambis said, “Instead of representing your whole school, we’re all representing our whole state. Not 1,400 people, but thousands and thousands of people. You can still feel that intensity here. Especially with North Carolina practicing on the field right next to us.”