It's no wonder the week leading up to today's 62nd annual SCADA North-South All-Star Football Game has gone so smoothly.
After all, the game manager, former Myrtle Beach High football coach Scott Earley, is no stranger to the school, community or the game.
"It's been a very sentimental week for me," said Earley, who left last spring to become head football coach and athletics director at Chapin High. "Being back here has reminded me how much I miss the ties I have to this community. There have been a lot of stories told and tears shed."
A lot has transpired in the months since Earley's departure. He inherited a program that had been down for years and wasted little time injecting some excitement by upsetting top-ranked Strom Thurmond in the season opener. The Eagles started 7-0 but lost their last four games of the season.
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"Myrtle Beach had a bye that week and a lot of people came up for the game and supported us, which really meant a lot to me," Earley recalled. "We had a good season but we lost six starters, our quarterback and our top running back. We just didn't have enough gas or enough depth to finish. I've basically taken the same blue print I used down here up there, so it's going to take us a little more time to compete against those Upstate teams."
Despite having a full plate in his new role as coach and AD, Earley kept in close contact with his former offensive coordinator and successor, Mickey Wilson. After leading the Seahawks to their first state title in 24 years in 2008, Earley was rooting from afar for a Myrtle Beach repeat. Unfortunately for him, he saw the Seahawks fall one step short in last Saturday's 35-26 loss to Clinton in the Class AAA state title game at Williams-Brice Stadium.
"Mickey and I talked on the phone two or three times a week, and I kept up with the guys through the Internet," Earley said. "Once we were out of the playoffs, I stayed away because I didn't want to be a distraction, but I had some proud moments up in that skybox. It was one of those deals where if they played Clinton 20 times I think they would beat them 19 times, but they had some drops (passes) and Clinton did what they had to do to win."
Earley has been able to reunite with his former players, coaches and friends in the community this week, but after the game it's back to Chapin.
"The good news is even though you move away you don't lose those relationships," Earley said. "And it's been good for me to see the program is in good hands. They have a lot of kids coming back next year, and they're going to have a good opportunity to win it all. I'll be rooting for them."
Unless, of course, they meet Chapin in the 2010 state championship game. Either way, Earley will be back to run next year's North-South game.
South offensive lineman DeAndre Shell doesn't have to imagine what it would be like to make it to the NFL someday. He just has to talk to his uncle, former Oakland/L.A. Raiders player/head coach Art Shell.
"We've always been real close and he's been a big help to me," said the younger Shell, a 6-foot-1, 300-pounder from Goose Creek High. "I always send him my game films and he looks at them and tells me what I need to work on. It's great to have someone that knows football like he does helping me out."
Despite the fact that they live on opposite ends of the country, they have managed to stay in close communication. Art Shell even invited DeAndre out for a Raiders game against the Baltimore Ravens a few years ago.
"That was my first NFL game and it was really cool," DeAndre Shell said. "It made me want to work harder so hopefully I can play at that level someday."
Myrtle Beach High football players Morgan Byrd and Steven Cobb have enjoyed all the luxuries of being on vacation this week without the inconvenience of having to travel.
The South squad members have stayed at the team hotel instead of their own beds, dined at local restaurants in favor of a good home-cooked meal and practiced with the team just a Hail Mary pass away from their classes.
"We've just tried to be like all the other guys and enjoy it," said Cobb, a 6-2, 198-pound tight end. "Staying at the hotel, eating out every meal, no school, it's been a lot of fun."
But the best part of the week has been less about the sights and sounds of Myrtle Beach, which they see and hear all the time, and more about getting to know their teammates and opponents for Saturday's game.
"We have got to meet a lot of the guys we played against and never got the chance to know them," said Byrd, a 5-11, 170-pound wide receiver. "There's a lot of great guys here and it's been a fun experience."