MYRTLE BEACH — Adam Crane knows he’s just a small part of his team for the SCADA North-South All-Star Football game.
Still, he wants to make sure he does his part to stop a frustrating streak.
The Socastee senior and his South teammates have been charged with ending a four-game losing skid in the series. It hit a crescendo last year, when the North won 42-3, the second-largest margin of victory in the first 63 years of the event.
“Last year, they just killed them. We’re trying to work hard to change that,” Crane said before relaying some of the opening remarks from South head coach James Waring. “He’s getting on to us, and told us about how last year they embarrassed us. They made us look silly.”
The us vs. them comments this week from both sides are relative.
Each year, the teams change to a new crop of South Carolina top seniors. They have five days to practice, get to know each other and soak in all that North-South week has to offer.
Still, players from both sides know more bragging rights are on the table. Essentially, us vs. them becomes Upper State vs. Lower State.
It’s certainly tipped in the Upper State’s favor.
That’s where Crane could help. The 6-foot-2, 230-pound linebacker was a monster for Socastee this season. Despite missing three games with an injury early in the season, he piled up 90 tackles, five sacks and four tackles for loss. He was part of a Socastee defense that held some high-quality teams in check, pushed the Braves to a program-best 12-0 start and two playoff victories before losing to eventual Class AAA state champ Hartsville in the third round.
In the five state divisions that divide into Upper and Lower States for the playoffs, teams from the lower half won four of them. That includes Hartsville, Dillon, Bishop England and Cross. Christ Church won the Class A, Division I title, and Greenwood and Gaffney (a pair of Upper State teams) split the Class AAAA titles that blend the entire divisions together.
However, when it comes to the North-South All-Star game, the Lower State teams are fighting a four-year disadvantage.
“We’ve always thought the Lower State is better than the Upper State,” Crane said. “So it’s something to prove.”
Still focusing on the task at hand
Jeff Calabrese still hasn’t had time to soak in a 2012 season in which the highs couldn’t get much higher or the lows much lower.
The Hartsville coach hit that low point on Oct. 5, when senior lineman Ronald Rouse collapsed on the field and died during the team’s game against Crestwood. The cause of death was later revealed to be an enlarged heart.
So when the Red Foxes won the Class AAA state title Saturday, there were as many tears of sorrow as celebration.
The next day, Calabrese was on his way to Myrtle Beach. He’s coaching the linebackers for the South team this week. And once again, he’s focusing on his job while slowly processing everything that’s happened.
“One of my biggest fears or hesitations was how do I deal with these guys if they fall short?” Calabrese said this week. “Me, personally, I didn’t verbalize that to anybody. I didn’t have to do that. You teeter on the edge; they had all these dreams of being state champs and all that stuff. The reality is that very easily could have happened.”
Hartsville finished its season 15-0. In the process, the Red Foxes set plenty of school records and won their fourth football title.
They did it, the coach said, by burying themselves in football.
“The human spirit, everybody says kids aren’t the same or that kids are different,” Calabrese said. “I think I was most impressed with just their approach and their ability to put one foot in front of the other and love each other and draw strength from each other. The big thing, all of our guys, their belief system – believing in God – and trusting, it’s still really hard to put into words.
“It’s an amazing story for me on what young men can actually do and deal with loss. It’s an amazing story about a bunch of kids.”
It truly is.
Hartsville players – including North-South selections Trey Gattison and Cory Wiedrich – used the sport as a coping mechanism. They decided, maybe subconsciously for some, that concentrating on the game was the best way to both honor Rouse and heal.
As for their coach, Calabrese has had no time to continue the celebration and remembrance with his players. The closest thing he had was the one time he was able to watch the film from last weekend’s victory.
Following Saturday’s game, he said he’ll go back to Hartsville and he’ll let the highs and lows of the 2012 season settle in alongside the rest of his team.
“They wanted to get Ronald that ring,” Calabrese said. “That was very important for them. It’s kind of unreal that it actually happened.”
Contact IAN GUERIN at email@example.com.