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.”