For the first time in years, the Hammond football team will not start a season as defending state champions.
The Skyhawks rang up their seventh consecutive season of 12 or more wins in 2012, but the quest to secure a seventh consecutive SCISA title ended with a 21-14 loss to Augusta Christian — the same team it beat in 2006 to launch its protracted reign — in the title bout at Charlie W. Johnson Stadium.
The outcome prompted an intense status review of the program by Erik Kimrey and the Skyhawks’ coaching staff.
But that is nothing new.
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“It’s something we do every offseason, so it’s not like we put the program under the microscope because we didn’t win the championship,” Kimrey said.
“We’re always looking for innovative ways to motivate our players by becoming better coaches. We’re not afraid to step out of the box to try something different if we think it will work for us.”
Kimrey dismisses the notion that last season was a disappointment because the championship streak came to an end.
“We made some mistakes against Augusta Christian last year that cost us; that’s the way it goes,” he said. “But we’ve won some close ones through the years because of other teams’ mistakes, too. Our kids did what was expected. They worked hard to put themselves in a position to have success on the field. In my book, winning 12 games and making it to the finals again is a very successful season.”
The recent run of Hammond football excellence — six championships, seven consecutive championship game appearances — has no parallel in the Midlands. In fact, no South Carolina school at any level has managed more than four consecutive titles.
The only other program with a comparable run of sustained success is Byrnes, which had eight championships and nine title games in a 10-season span (2002-11).
Kimrey reached a personal milestone late last season — winning his 100th game on Oct. 19. The former Dutch Fork High and USC quarterback became the first football coach to get to 100 wins before his 10th season and in the fewest number of games (110).
“I see it more as an accomplishment by the team and the coaching staff than as recognition for me personally,” he said. “Through the years, the kids made the commitment to become the best players they could be day by day, and the school and the community have been tremendous in support for the program.”
Kimrey sports a career .904 (103-11 record) winning percentage since taking over the program in 2004.
The Skyhawks’ rise has been a major factor in the evolution of SCISA football in general.
“There is no question that the quality of the athletes and the coaching in SCISA has improved tremendously since I first started,” Kimrey said. “We play some pretty good football, and you’re seeing more and more SCISA players getting college attention. That’s something I’m proud to be part of.”
Kimrey and his staff have helped develop 11 players who went on to play at least one season of college football, but the best might still be on the roster — Cannon Smith.
The 6-foot-5, 240-pound prototype tight end was offered by national champion Alabama, but he committed early to Clemson.
“In terms of big-time college interest, Cannon is the best player we’ve ever had,” Kimrey said. “His size and athleticism sets him apart at his position, and he’s a hard worker.”
Roo Daniels, a four-year starter at center and a 2013 graduate, will play at Wofford, and could be an early contributor, Kimrey said.
The run of college-worthy talent began with Carter Scott, a standout linebacker on the first championship team in 2006 who went on to play at Dartmouth. Defensive end Will Patterson, who played on three championship teams, followed Scott’s Ivy League lead and played at Columbia. Linebacker Stone Pinckney, the defensive rock on the 2007 title squad, had a four-year Big 10 career at Northwestern, another stellar academic institution.
Walker Inabinet is an interesting case. As a linebacker, he was too small for college consideration, even at the lower levels, but he parlayed a unique skill (long snapping) into a scholarship at South Carolina.
Currently, running back B.J. Bennett could be a starter at Elon.
What’s the outlook for 2013? Are the Skyhawks still contenders?
“We’re going to be young and perhaps more inexperienced than we’ve ever been, so I guess it’s hard to say what we can expect,” Kimrey said. “But our kids are as committed as ever and I looking forward to seeing how it all works out.”
Smith is one of the key veteran building blocks, along with returning three-year starters Doak Fisher (6-3, 220) and Patrick Neese (6-3, 245).
“Doak is a versatile guy who we can use at tight end, fullback or wide receiver and Patrick is one of the best offensive linemen we’ve had,” Kimrey.
Kimrey takes much pride in developing Hammond signal callers and he’s excited about the the new season with transfer senior Davis King and rising junior Nick Garrett in the mix.
“Davis and Nick are very different kinds of quarterbacks, but both of them will play,” Kimrey said.
King, a left-hander who started last season for first-year Westwood, is Steve Spurrier’s grandson and a classic pocket passer. Garrett, who was the backup to Jake Nidiffer a year ago, is a running threat and an accurate passer.
“If Davis wasn’t here, we might be a little cautious about how we use Nick, but now we have some exciting new options to explore with the two of them on the field,” Kimrey said. “That’s something I’m really looking forward to.”
Keeping it fun, keeping it interesting are Kimrey trademarks. So is personal accountability without a totalitarian approach.
It’s been a pleasing formula for all involved.
As we publish more entries to this series, you’ll be able to find them by clicking this link.
Skyhawks college recruits:
|Cannon Smith, TE||(committed to Clemson)|
|Stone Pinckney, LB||(Northwestern)|
|B.J. Bennett, RB||(Elon)|
|Will Patterson, DE||(Columbia)|
|Carter Scott, LB||(Dartmouth)|
|Walker Inabinet, long snapper||(South Carolina)|
|Roo Daniels, C||(Wofford)|
|Tyler Bailey, DB||(Hampton)|
|Dave Nidiffer, QB||(Newberry)|
|Aaron Walters, WR||(Buffalo)|
|Josh Walters, DB||(Campbell)|
|Steven Harvin, DB||(Presbyterian)|
Hammond SCISA state championships
2006 | 2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | Runner-Up 2012
Coach Erik Kimrey’s year-by-year record: