When Williston-Elko takes the field at today to face Scott's Branch in Orangeburg for the Class A Division II state championship, a familiar face to the Blue Devils program will perhaps be its loudest supporter.
Mike Langford played center, linebacker and special teams for Williston-Elko in 1979 - the lone undefeated team in school history. This year's team is attempting to become the second.
Langford, who is confined to a wheelchair, along with many of his teammates who were seniors during the 1979 season, tailgate and attend every USC home football game as well as several Williston-Elko games every year. Langford said he believes all 14 seniors from the '79 championship team will be in attendance Saturday.
"All of us 14 kids started playing Little League together; we grew up together. We knew we were good, too," Langford said. "We never had a losing season at anything, football, basketball or baseball. And once we got to our senior year, we knew it was destiny."
Never miss a local story.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the 1979 team, which coach James Hewitt led to the Class A state title and 14-0 record.The Blue Devils gave up 83 points all season.
The defensive captain was one of Langford's close childhood friends, linebacker Andy McNair.
"When I was young, we moved from Augusta, Georgia, to Williston and I met Mike," McNair said. "The first day we met, we got in a big fight. We've been best friends ever since.
"Mike was a good player. He was always at practice; he was willing to do anything for the team, like play multiple positions," McNair said. "You could always count on him to be there."
After high school graduation, Langford stayed in touch with many of his senior teammates, including McNair, and attended his 10-year high school reunion in 1990.
Langford soon learned he could count on his friends to be there for him, just as he was their for them as a teammate.
On Christmas Eve 1995, having dropped off bicycles for needy children in Williston as part of a Secret Santa program, Langford was driving home to pick up his wife so they could meet friends. He swerved to avoid some dogs in the road, sending his car into a ditch.
His vehicle rolled over, and Langford sustained a broken neck that led to his confinement to a wheelchair.
McNair said that while the accident left Langford with a broken body, it never broke his spirit.
"He took that situation with a good attitude. He is always upbeat," McNair said. "He never finds an excuse for anything and always stays positive-minded."
Another of Langford's close friends from the team, all-state quarterback and offensive captain Eugene Smalls, was determined to stay at Langford's side.
"Me and Mike, we grew up together, and when I saw him in this condition, man, it hurt," Smalls said. "If I was like that, I don't know that I could do the things that he does. I feel like its very important for me to be with him just like a brother."
In 2008, Langford earned his degree from USC in sports management, and his service dog, Colby, received an honorary diploma for attending all of the classes. Langford works at Carolina Stadium, handling handicapped accessibility during USC baseball games.
McNair remains in awe of what Langford has been able to accomplish.
"People think they have problems. They don't know anything about problems," McNair said. "Life's too short to worry about what you don't have and what you can't do."
Smalls, along with Langford and their former teammates, is excited about the potential of another state title for the Blue Devils.
"They got a good team," Smalls said. "They've got a bunch, 15 or 20 kids that are juniors. And they've been playing together for a long time, too, so that's what makes the team so strong."
Through it all, Langford, 47, is grateful for the support he's been shown.
"When something happens to you, you find out who loves you and who your friends are," Langford said. "And I can say, these 14 dudes we grew up with, they don't forget. They're just like brothers to me."