After 25 years working with college athletes, it has taken three months at River Bluff High for coach David Bennett to realize what he was missing.
“When you’re working with high school kids, it reminds you why you got into teaching and coaching,” said Bennett, River Bluff’s athletics director and football coach, who is guiding the Class 3A Gators as they head into the program’s first season. “It’s a very small window and a crucial time in their lives. I realize the importance of the role of coach in the lives of these young men, and young women.”
River Bluff will play a seven-game junior varsity schedule in its first season.
A Greer native and Cheraw High alumnus, Bennett holds degrees from Presbyterian and Clemson, and began his football coaching career at Goose Creek. He owns a coaching record of 126-56. He spent more than a decade establishing the football program at Coastal Carolina, where he was twice named Big South coach of the year.
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He spent this past year as athletics director at Socastee High before he was hired at River Bluff.
Simple interactions like a chat with the Coca-Cola salesman or the ride to passing camp on the team bus have impressed upon Bennett the magnitude of his position at the high school level.
It has also reinforced his commitment to being a positive force in the life of his players.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve been around 15- and 16- and 17-year-olds, but I know these guys are going to remember me for a long time, based on what I do for their four years,” he said.
“It’s not like anything else in this world, the way that, in athletics, you make these relationships with people by working hard and making memories.”
Though school has yet to begin, Bennett is enthralled with the high school environment — especially all the trappings of the newly built River Bluff school and athletics facilities.
He said working with the administration has been an excellent experience, and he is looking forward to molding the administration of the school’s athletics program to mirror the college set-up.
But high school coaching has its challenges. One of the most notable is the interaction with athletes’ parents, an experience Bennett likes.
“We want to see our kids the way their parents see them,” Bennett said, noting that he and his wife intend to be like another set of parents for his players.
“We appreciate them for their strengths and their weaknesses.
“And we recognize that every kid has a story, every kid is special and everybody can bring some value to the team.”
That is an important thing to remember for a coach who no longer can recruit his football talent.
When Bennett was hired, the attendance list for River Bluff had not been determined, and he had no clue what his roster would look like.
He arrived in Lexington ready to coach whoever showed up.
Now, with kickoff three weeks away, Bennett is working to build trust with his squad and establish team unity.
“I talk to them about having integrity and character. I tell them it’s not about I and me, but us and we, because that is the attitude that is going to lead us to success,” Bennett said.