Four Midlands teams are among the handful of unbeaten clubs left as the prep football season hits the midway point.
Hammond’s spot on the list is no surprise, given the Skyhawks’ mastery in SCISA play since 2006. But expectations might not have been so high at Dreher, Spring Valley and Swansea.
Here’s a look at each team:
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Dreher, which went 3-18 in Josh Stepp’s first two seasons, is off to a 5-0 start for the first time since 1997. The Blue Devils hope to shatter the single-season high for wins since at least 1960, which was the 8-3 posted in 1997. The Blue Devils open Region 4-3A play tonight against Lower Richland at Memorial Stadium.
“Our kids have worked hard to turn things around,” said Stepp, who went through a similar transformation project during his playing days at Pelion (1998-2001).
“Once you start getting a taste of winning, you don’t want it to stop. Hopefully, we’re prepared to keep this thing going. But, at the same time, we have to realize that right now everybody is 0-0 and that 5-0 record is behind us. The biggest game of the year for us is Lower Richland.”
Dreher’s last winning record was in 2005, and the last winning mark in region play was in 1998.
SPRING VALLEY (5-0)
The Vikings have not had a winning record or qualified for the state playoffs since 2006.
“It’s good to have success but success can also be fleeting, which is what we have to understand,” said third-year Vikings coach Miles Aldridge. “It’s hard not to be pleased when you are 5-0, but I also know that this team has the potential to be even better, so we still have work to do.”
Aldridge sees this week’s game against 4-1 White Knoll as a useful measuring stick prior to the start of Region 4-4A action on Oct. 6.
“We both have good records, run similar systems and are trying to make a move up, so, in that regard, it’s an important game for both teams to see where they are,” Aldridge said.
The addition last week of receiver Dominique Taylor gives Spring Valley’s passing game more big-play potential.
Swansea’s turnaround began last season with a win against Silver Bluff in the Region 5-2A opener. The Tigers are 12-1 since then and enter Friday’s Region 5 opener against Airport ranked sixth in Class 3A.
“Beating a name-brand team (Silver Bluff) went a long way to convincing the kids that we were on the right track, that the hard work and commitment was paying off,” said third-year coach Chad Leaphart. “We know playing up in 3A is going to be a challenge, but we believe we’re ready for anything.”
There is magic in the air again in this small rural town.
“There probably isn’t a player on the team that hasn’t heard the stories growing up about the big wins in the past, and using that tradition is something we’ve attempted to do,” Leaphart said. “It was that tradition that convinced me that a quick turnaround here was possible.”
Hammond operates on a different level. Since 2006, the Skyhawks have gone 80-4 and won six consecutive SCISA championships. Erik Kimrey’s team has won 17 in a row, 35 of its past 36 games and hasn’t suffered consecutive setbacks since losing the final three games of the 2005 campaign.
But the focus, as always, is on the present.
“All we try to do is control the factors we can control,” Kimrey said. “It’s a cliché, I know, but our goals are simply to get better in each practice and in each game. To have success, you have to have good players and we’ve been fortunate to have had our share, but I really believe our success is built on individual commitment that is expressed collectively.”