Mark Fischer isn’t one for milestones.
He looks at the steps his St. James football team has made, but he’s not about to start celebrating any wins. Even Friday, should the Sharks be able to tackle Carolina Forest – giving the school its first victory over a Class AAAA program – it will be on to the next one.
It’s so much easier for the second-year coach to look back.
“I think it shows part of the growing phase,” Fischer said leading up to his 13th game at St. James. “I don’t think we’ve put a lot of stock into it. I think it would be something we would look at the end of the season if it were for some reason to happen.
“This is a team that beat the holy snot out of us last year. We have to find a way to slow them down. They’ve played pretty two good football teams. They’re not as bad as 0-2, and if you believe that…”
Fischer doesn’t have to finish his thought.
Carolina Forest comes in with two losses in games against Socastee and Big 16 program Fort Dorchester. That doesn’t erase the fact that the Panthers made quick work of St. James this time last year. The final score, 49-22, showed then that the Sharks were probably going to struggle again.
Flash forward to this year.
In the opener, St. James, while attempting to unveil a new offense blending the single wing with some option and spread, couldn’t do much with the ball. It fell to Loris 9-8. Last week, however, it was a different story.
The Sharks scored their third-highest point total in the Fischer era, beating Andrews 34-21.
“This was the first game we’ve ever gone into where we weren’t supposed to win that we lived up to the challenge and prevailed,” Fischer said. “That was the first time since I’ve been here we’ve had the opportunity to beat somebody better than us.”
That’s a feeling Friday’s opposing coach knows very well.
It wasn’t that long ago that Carolina Forest was struggling. The Panthers went 0-11 in their first season in Class AAAA (2008) before a 3-8 finish the next year and then back-to-back 7-4 seasons. Drew Hummel remembers having to sell his program when the results on the field were minimal.
“I do see parallels in it. The coaching staff has to be patient with it,” Hummel said. “You have to tell them up front what your plan is and what you’re doing. When we went 0-11, I told my athletics director ‘I’m going to play a lot of young kids.’ Our junior and senior classes weren’t very talented. If we’re going to get beat, we’re going to get beat with younger people. Basically, we had a JV team playing varsity ball.
“The administration has to back you and what you’re doing. You have to have patience.”
It’s something Fischer battles with at St. James, if for no other reason that he traded his eventual winning ways at his previous stop, Louisa County, Va., for a team that had never had a winning season. Right away, he began selling his program in his own way. He put together Midnight Madness practices each of the last two years, and he started showing up almost religiously at other sports.
There, he saw something no one has witnessed with the young football program.
The Sharks have had success in most of the other sports, none more notable than the baseball team’s 2011 state championship. However, in football, the school has qualified for the playoffs just twice. It is 20-64 in eight-plus years on the gridiron.
That’s not something altogether new to Fischer, though.
When he was hired at Louisa County, that school had dealt with 31 consecutive years of losing football. Still, in order to turn things around, Fischer had to go back to basics. Within a handful of years, he had Louisa County not only in the postseason, but contending once it got there.
Hummel said it’s not unrealistic for St. James to need five years to develop.
Again, Fischer tries to be as patient as he can. But the one thing he isn’t going to do is get ahead of himself. He chalks up the little victories within victories, knowing the primary ones are still harder to come by.
“We came out of the game with zero penalties and zero turnovers,” he said of the win over Andrews. “We’re starting to figure this out a little bit. I’m not saying we’re great, but we’re starting to put everything in perspective.”
Contact IAN GUERIN at firstname.lastname@example.org.