Rodney Barr isn’t one to walk away from a challenge.
It’s one of the things that drew him to taking the Lower Richland High football job last season. Things didn’t go as planned in year one: The Diamond Hornets didn’t win a single game.
But Barr didn’t panic and leaned on his experiences when he was an assistant at Wilson under former LR coach Darryl Page. Like Lower Richland, Wilson was known more for its basketball teams than football. The Tigers made an improbable run through the playoffs, winning all of its games on the road to winning the 2007 Class 3A championship.
While LR’s year didn’t result in a state title, it was its best season in 26 years. The Diamond Hornets won seven games after winning just seven combined from 2013 to 2016.
The team won a pair of playoff games and hosted a postseason game for the first time since 1991.
Lower Richland players Tevaughn Higgins and Malich Jacobs were picked for the North-South football game, and Barr was honored as The State’s Midlands Coach of the Year.
“We just had to believe in the process and keep chopping,” Barr said. “I told the team the story of the bamboo tree and kind of compared us to that. You can keep watering it and take caring it and it shows no growth. Then, all of sudden, it will sprout up and grow. That’s how we were. We worked hard last year and didn’t have anything to show for it. But the kids kept believing. Not one man quit and this year. We had something to show for it.”
Lower Richland’s season got off to a slow start. The Diamond Hornets lost their first two games but followed that up with a two-game winning streak. LR’s first win of the season against Airport snapped a 19-game losing skid.
Following three straight losses, LR ended the season with three consecutive region wins, including over defending region champion Chapin. The Diamond Hornets opened the playoffs with a win over Darlington before a dramatic 34-31 win over Myrtle Beach in one of the wildest finishes of a Midlands game this season.
Lower Richland trailed by 17 points at halftime and by nine with less than two minutes in the game. The Diamond Hornets won it on a 45-yard Hail Mary pass from Higgins to Devonta Jacobs on the game’s final play.
“When the official raised his hands for a touchdown, it was an unbelievable feeling and memory those kids won’t forget,” Barr said. “A lot of the people back in the past are used to seeing Lower Richland football at its peak. It was great to see them in the stands and excited to see them excited about Lower Richland football again.”