Watch: Camden players, coach talk turnaround, big matchup with Chester
It’s not unusual to see former NFL players getting into high school coaching when their playing days are done. It is uncommon to have three former pros coaching in the same county.
All three of Kershaw County’s high schools are coached by former NFL players — Matt Campbell (Lugoff-Elgin), Brian Rimpf (Camden) and Tyrone Drakeford (North Central). Kershaw County has a population of 64,097, according to the last census in 2016.
“It is obviously unique,” said Campbell, who played for the Carolina Panthers and Washington Redskins from 1995-2001. “To have played it at highest level, you have a deeper understanding on things.”
The three coaches say they don’t discuss their NFL days when they get together at district athletic director meetings, instead focusing on their respective schools. Still, there is mutual respect among the trio.
“We all relate really well to each other,” said Rimpf, a seventh round pick by the Baltimore Ravens in 2004. “We all have had the same experiences. When we came into the programs, we were in similar situations.
“We aren’t friends in which we share plays because we’ve got to play both schools each year. We’ve got a good relationship within the district here and doing the same job at each school. We want each school to be successful.”
Rimpf said getting into coaching came natural when his playing career ended in 2008. He played three seasons for the Ravens and two more in arena football.
Rimpf spent five seasons as head coach at Jack Britt in Fayetteville, N.C. He went 42-23 with a trip to the Class 4-AA championship game.
“Nobody plays as long as they want to play for. It ends before you are ready for most people unless you are superstars like Peyton Manning. You either get pushed out or you get hurt,” Rimpf said after Tuesday’s practice. “I had always said in high school my dream was to make it to NFL. And if I did that, I would coach high school one day. Didn’t mean it at the time, but it ended up happening. When playing days got over, it was time to do something else and it’s such a smooth transition to coach.
“At the high school level, I like the interaction you get with 15- to 18-year-olds. They are young and we get to mold them so they can go on to college or to the NFL one day. It is something we really enjoy and it is fulfilling and rewarding.”
It’s been especially rewarding for Drakeford, who was a standout at North Central before going to play at Virginia Tech and then on in the NFL for eight seasons with the San Francisco 49ers, Washington Redskins and New Orleans Saints. He was a member of the 49ers’ Super Bowl XXIX title team in 1995.
After retiring, Drakeford was an assistant in Virginia and Tennessee and executive director of the Boys and Girls Club in Prince William County, Va.
Campbell, who played at South Carolina, said he didn’t have much of a desire to go into coaching after his playing career ended in. But he took a volunteer coaching position at Bluffton High School and things took off from there.
The former offensive lineman spent five years as an assistant at VMI before landing at Lugoff-Elgin in 2015.
All three coaches have enjoyed success so far at their stops. Lugoff-Elgin increased its win total in each of Campbell’s first three seasons and won its first playoff game since 2008 when the Demons defeated Dreher in the first round of the 2017 Class 4A playoffs.
L-E has struggled this season and has yet to win a game in its first season in Class 5A.
“It will make me a better coach,” Campbell said of this season. “Makes you evaluate everything from how you practice and everything you do. No one likes not winning but it helps you develop and evaluate yourself.”
After losing seasons in their first years in 2017, Rimpf and Drakeford have their programs in the hunt for region titles. Camden is 6-1, ranked No. 4 in Class 3A and travels to No. 4 Chester with the winner taking control of Region 4-3A. The Bulldogs haven’t won a region crown since 2002 and haven’t won a postseason game since 2009.
“The difference between last year and this year is, we know our kids better,” Rimpf said. “We know what they can and can’t do better, so we are going to play to their strengths. You are always a good coach when you have good players and we have a lot of good players.”
Rimpf has brought a different energy to the program, moving around from drill to drill. He also has music blaring during practice, a trend at most high schools in the Midlands.
“He really modernized it basically,” said defensive end Javaris Holliday, nephew of former Camden and NFL standout Vonnie Holliday. “It was really old school before he came. We had ideas but couldn’t put them up front. But he lets us put them up front and lets us roll with it.”
North Central is off to a 4-2 start and hasn’t won more than five games in a since winning six in 2003. The Knights haven’ t won a region title since 1992.
Two weeks ago North Central defeated perennial power Central Pageland, 41-21, for the first time since 1984.