Early this month on the eve of their scrimmage with Whale Branch High School, Bluffton High School's football players filed into a locker room that looked as though it had just received an HGTV makeover.
One by one, each player found his way to one of 44 custom-crafted birchwood lockers bearing his name and team number, with shelves for his shoulder pads and helmet, hooks for his jersey and a bench to sit down or lean on to tie his cleats.
Gone were the dishwater gray walls, bare concrete floor and benches that gave the former visitors' locker room all the charm of a bus station terminal.
"This is a lot nicer than what we used to have," said Bluffton High School junior Michael Sulka, 16, a right tackle for the Bobcats.
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Admiring the giant black Bobcat logo newly stenciled on a shiny, speckled floor, senior Desmond Jenkins, 17, who plays wing and corner back, said he felt like a pirate who just found the treasure.
"I love it," Jenkins said."We'll take good care of this right here."
Jenkins' words were music to the ears of Bluffton High's new head coach Ken Cribb, who spearheaded the renovation when he arrived last month.
"It's about instilling pride and motivation," Cribb said.
He and assistant coach and defensive coordinator John Houpt agreed the locker room was in dire need of some sprucing up for the new season.
Using a "before" photo of the room, Houpt created a computer assisted design showing sleek new lockers against walls painted Bobcat black and green, with a gray floor sporting a huge Bobcat logo duplicated on the front door and support pillars.
In early July, Cribb met neighbor Daren Klitzsch, who owns DK Woodworks, while Klitzsch was working on the home Cribb was moving into at Shell
"We got to talking football," Cribb said, "and I was telling Daren about John's ideas for the locker room and needing somebody to help us do it."
Klitzsch offered to build the lockers and brought Cribb to a meeting of the Island Business Alliance, where Cribb asked for the networking group's support.As a result, materials -- lumber, hardware, 12 gallons of paint, graphics -- and labor were donated by the local business
Volunteers started the work July 24, the first morning of summer football camp.
"This is our home," said Cribb, while Klitzsch was busy drilling the last of the lockers into place before the players arrived for practice. "They're not going to have any pride if it isn't neat, and you can't have success until you have pride."
Cribb said players previously had to share 30 hand-me-down lockers from another school, and he's happy not having to worry about people's stuff being in the wrong place.
"Everybody will have their own stuff and their own place to put it," he said.
Cribb compared the finished locker room, which is located under the bleachers near the stadium's entrance, to a home with a yard that's been trimmed, edged and manicured to reflect pride of
"Kids care about the way they look, the way they dress," he said. "That's important to them, and professional lockers and their game uniforms are something the kids can be proud of."
Watching the reaction on the faces of the players trailing in, he said, "It's like Christmas for the kids walking in here."
Sophomore quarterback C.J. Frazier, 15, sat down near his locker, surveyed the transformation with the rest of his teammates and grinned.
"This kind of feels like we're in college," he said.