High School Sports

Byrnes game is a shot for S.C. to shine

SPARTANBURG - California, Florida and Texas are used as measuring sticks when discussing high school football on a national scale.

Byrnes has helped South Carolina ease its way into the conversation. The Rebels are 9-1 against out-of-state competition, including 4-0 against Florida schools.

Byrnes' only out-of-state loss came in 2002, a 21-10 setback at Evangel Christian Academy in Shreveport, La.

The Rebels' success has not been going unnoticed.

"If Byrnes is the representative for teams in South Carolina, they are representing as well as any other school in any state," MaxPreps.com senior writer Mitch Stephens said. "They have done it for a decade now."

The Rebels have become a mainstay in the USA Today national poll, finishing No. 7 in 2005, No. 13 in 2007 and No. 9 last year. Gaffney and Rock Hill are the other S.C. schools to in the season-ending top 25 during that span.

St. Thomas Aquinas, Byrnes' opponent at 8 p.m. Friday in Fort Lauderdale (Fla.), finished as the nation's top team last season are again perched atop USA Today's poll heading into their matchup with the No. 2 Rebels.

Former Byrnes standout and current Clemson student-coach Stanley Hunter knows what it is like to play against a top Florida program. Hunter recorded 16 tackles, including three tackles for loss, in the Rebels' 27-15 victory against No. 5 Glades Central in 2006.

Hunter said that despite Byrnes' success, prep football in South Carolina has more to prove.

"We have this conversation every day in the locker room at Clemson," Hunter said. "We're not known for great players and talent. We don't get respect from Florida and Texas players because we don't get the same type of exposure. There are not more than three or four instate schools that play well year after year."

Stephens, who has covered three previous No. 1 vs. No. 2 national matchups, said the Rebels will help the state's case with a victory against St. Thomas Aquinas.

"This will be a tremendous game," he said. "Byrnes is representing South Carolina and will put the state even more on the map with a win."

Hunter agreed.

"This will be the best team Byrnes has faced from Florida," he said. "This isn't a test, it's an exam."

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