St. James football changing mindset, eyeing bigger goals

For The Sun NewsAugust 19, 2013 

St. James running back Allen Crum is expected to get plenty of touches this season.

FILE PHOTO BY MATT SILFER — For The Sun News

  • 2013 schedule
    Date Opponent Time ’12 result
    Aug. 23vs. Loris7:30 p.m.L, 9-8
    Aug. 30vs. Andrews7:30 p.m.W, 34-21
    Sept. 6at Carolina Forest7:30 p.m.L, 29-15
    Sept. 20at Cross7:30 p.m.L, 53-40
    Sept. 27at Carvers Bay7:30 p.m.L, 21-13
    Oct. 4vs. Georgetown7:30 p.m.L, 35-20
    Oct. 12at Wilson7:30 p.m.W, 42-21
    Oct. 25vs. North Myrtle Beach7:30 p.m.W, 24-19
    Nov. 1at Socastee7:30 p.m.L, 35-0
  • The scoop

    Coach | Mark Fischer (6-14 in two seasons at St. James and 67-41 in nine seasons overall)

    Last year | 3-7, 2-3 Region VII-AAA, fourth place, missed Class AAA playoffs

    Returning starters | 6 offense/6 defense

    Strengths | Fischer’s team finished 2012 with the same number of victories as it did the year before, but the gap closed significantly as far as point margins. Two of those losses came by a single score and three more looked much worse than they actually were because of late defensive lapses.

    Weaknesses | Getting past the school’s losing ways has been tougher than many imagined. But the fact remains that St. James is in a region where six teams are fighting for just three guaranteed playoff spots. Getting to the postseason will require the Sharks to make a hefty push in their won-loss record.

    Three players to watch

    Josh Roper, Sr., QB | Roper’s first full season at quarterback was a good start, as he threw for more than 700 yards and ran for another 300 while combining for 14 total touchdowns.

    Allen Crum, Jr., RB/DB | The smaller tailback showed solid potential several times last year, including a near-100-yard game against Carolina Forest. He’ll have even more touches now that Austin Adams has graduated.

    Bradley Mewhorter, Jr., LB | With a defensive line that will shuffle plenty of bodies, Mewhorter and the rest of the linebackers have to be on point throughout the 2013 season.

St. James is hoping the 10th time’s the charm.

The first nine seasons of Sharks football produced exactly zero winning seasons. The team has qualified for the playoffs twice and narrowly missed out on the postseason a year ago. However, either of those two things happening in 2013 would be signs of major progress for third-year coach Mark Fischer.

“We’re starting to think the way we’re supposed to think,” said Fischer, who has had back-to-back 3-7 seasons. “They want to know how to correct it. It’s pretty cool as a coach. … We’re going on the right road. We still make a lot of mistakes. But as far as executing, they ask a lot of questions. They ask to do a drill over again to make sure they got it.”

For the second straight year, St. James has produced significant increases in the roster. Players are completing their eligibility instead of moving on to other interests.

As Fischer said, though, it’s not simply a numbers game.

The players understand the terminology and the philosophies of what Fischer’s offensive and defensive schemes were created to accomplish. They showed signs of turning the corner last year.

Outside of lopsided losses to Myrtle Beach and Socastee, the rest of the Sharks’ five defeats came by an average of just one touchdown.

“We lost pretty much every one of our games in the fourth quarter,” senior quarterback Josh Roper said. “It’s about winning the fourth quarter. When the time comes this year, we know what it takes to win the game.”

Getting to a point where St. James can get to a winning record, however, won’t be easy.

The Sharks open with Loris, one of the early teams to watch in Class AA, as well as road trips to Carolina Forest, Cross and Carvers Bay, three teams who swept Fischer’s squad a year ago.

Then it’s on to a wide-open Region VII-AAA. There, changes to the Class AAA playoffs system a year ago proved that it will likely take at least three victories in region play to guarantee a postseason trip.

The Sharks finished fourth last year, but their spot was given to Upper State team Southside.

Fischer said getting to the postseason for the first time under his leadership may be immediately more important than the winning record. He saw it with his teams at Louisa County (Va.).

“That’s our goal, to be playing free football. That’s a bonus to your program,” he said. “Once we started making the playoffs in Virginia, the popularity of our program in our community grew. That’s been our objective, to make our program better to be competitive every year and have the opportunities to go to the next level.”

The Sharks will continue with their rush-first offense based out of the double wing. Defensively, a 3-5 scheme will be built around shuffling the line in front of three experienced linebackers.

What it could all come down to, though, is mentality.

“I think we have a pretty mature squad,” Fischer said. “If we can limit mistakes, we can give ourselves a fighting chance in these ball games.

“Our kids are starving to be successful.”

Contact IAN GUERIN at ian@ianguerin.com.

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