Tim Renfrow stood about 10 yards away from the temporary bleachers Socastee has installed on the track surrounding its field for Friday night’s game.
He glances over at them occasionally, probably not realizing the distance between he and the constructed seats is approximately the length of his son’s rushing average this year.
What they mean to the state’s football scene, to the Braves’ football program, even to the coach personally, are significantly bigger than just a few pieces of metal to accommodate the South Carolina High School League’s capacity requirements for state quarterfinals. They are proof that staying the course, as uneasy as it can be, can eventually pay off in ways few expected.
Before Socastee defeated Myrtle Beach and Conway, before the Braves won their first region title in school history, before the team won two playoff games for the first time ever, Renfrow had already developed a mental approach to the game and his role as a coach.
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It was bigger than wins and losses, and it was bigger than the game.
“The whole reason I’m here is to teach these kids to be young men and start that process with them,” he said. “We have a tough society with them. We have a lot of impact on kids. It’s tough coming out here and working and pushing and falling down and getting back up.
“Coming to school and not having to deal with sports, it would be a lot easier.”
Renfrow has had some not-so-celebrated seasons. In fact, the Braves’ victory against Berkeley last week gave him more wins than losses on his Socastee coaching ledger for the first time since 2005, his third with the team.
His second stop as a head coach – he was also at Green Sea-Floyds from 1985-1987 – included five losing seasons in his first nine years.
Amazingly this season, Renfrow’s message has stayed the same despite the team’s 12-0 start leading up to Friday night’s much-anticipated game with Hartsville, who is also 12-0. The way he sees it, and the way he conveys it to his team, there’s only one way to go.
Nothing is given, football or otherwise.
Few football teams in South Carolina this season know that better than this week’s opponent.
‘Thankful to have another day’
During Hartsville’s Oct. 5 homecoming game against Crestwood, senior lineman Ronald Rouse collapsed on the field during the second quarter. He was transported to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
A coroner’s autopsy revealed Rouse died from an enlarged heart.
He was 18.
The Red Foxes community has honored Rouse in several ways in the six weeks since his death. Flags in the area were originally lowered to half mast, and athletes in other sports at the school have competed in jerseys designed in Rouse’s memory.
Meanwhile, the Hartsville football team, a group of coaches and players who spent so much time with Rouse, is simply doing what it can emotionally.
“I think we’re just very thankful to have another day. Football allows us to focus on something that we love to do,” coach Jeff Calabrese said this week. “I think we’re just doing the best we can. Kids adapt. We have all just dived into our work and focused on the task at hand. Any time you deal with some tragedy, it’s one foot in front of the other. That’s our approach, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Calabrese and Renfrow have spent plenty of time together this year. The two are each assistant coaches for the SCADA North-South All-Star Football game that will be played in Myrtle Beach on Dec. 8.
Renfrow will coach defensive backs for the South squad; Calabrese is in charge of the linebackers.
As a result of the evaluation and selection process, they know each other’s teams very well, and Renfrow slowed the pace of his words this week when talking about Rouse.
“Football has a lot of life lessons,” he said. “It’s not for everybody. But it could be. You learn so much through it. The Ronald Rouse thing is just part of it. It could have been one of our kids or could have been someone’s kid. You just have to have faith it happened for a reason and hopefully there’s a lot of kids who will learn a lot from that.
“I think, all the way across the state, there are very few people who don’t use that as a teachable moment. This is a game here. We enjoy it, and if they’re gonna keep score, we’re gonna play it to win it. But there’s a lot more important things than what happens on Friday nights.”
Perception of success
Hunter Renfrow’s classmates have changed their tune from the beginning of last year.
Back then, he and his brother Jordan (who graduated last year), said talking football with peers wasn’t always so enjoyable. Other students knew the Braves routinely lost more than they won, and the pair of quarterbacking brothers often got the brunt of it.
This season, the jeers have turned to pats on the back. Hunter Renfrow, the catalyst for much of this season’s monumental season, says it’s almost as difficult to deal with.
“You like it. But at the same time, you don’t want to try to look past a team,” he said. “You hear [classmates] looking past the next game. You hear them talking about it and have to say ‘Don’t worry about it.’ ”
Renfrow confirmed that students started talking about the potential Hartsville match-up when the Class AAA brackets were released and each team still needed to win two games to make it happen. As for the players, that wouldn’t have been their style.
Socastee has re-phrased the old “one game at a time” cliché into constant comments of wanting to “be 1-0 this week.” The Braves aren’t looking ahead, but they also aren’t looking back.
About the only talk publicly of something greater came last week, when offensive coordinator Steve Hodge snapped at players for repeatedly jumping offside in practice.
“You want to be one of the best teams in South Carolina history, and you don’t know the snap count?” he yelled.
It was a rare break from Renfrow’s M.O.
Thirteen seasons as a head coach, several more as an assistant and a stint as Socastee’s athletics director have crafted that technique. He’s been on both ends of the spectrum.
In 1987, he was 0-10 at Green Sea-Floyds. This season, it couldn’t be more opposite. It has brought credence to his philosophy and kept him on the sidelines.
“If I’m not going to be effective, I don’t want to be out here,” he said. “[If not] I don’t want to be in the class room or an A.D. or a football coach or whatever. I want to be effective with kids. That’s my whole drive. I love football. I love winning. But that’s not what drives me. When I go home at night, whether I’m 0-10 or 10-0, I’m still the same person.”