Charles Elvington knows the struggles of the Green Sea Floyds football program as well as anyone.
He was an assistant coach on the first team fielded by the high school in 1976, and was later relieved of his head coaching duties in the 1990s after going 1-19 over two years in the midst of 13 consecutive losing seasons for the program.
So he can appreciate as much as anyone the Trojans’ first berth in a state championship game in their 41st season of varsity football, as they will face Lamar for the S.C. Class A title at 5 p.m. Friday at Benedict College in Columbia.
“We went through some lean years,” Elvington said. “It’s been kind of up and down. It has never been steady. Right now we’re riding a really good wave and have some really good football players.
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“That [state title] would make our program. When you’re thinking about football you don’t think very much about Green Sea Floyds. I think it would make us relevant in that sport.”
The program in the midst of farms and fields in rural western Horry County has come a long way from having to wait until classes commenced to have a full roster because many of its players chose to work jobs in tobacco fields through the summer.
J.C. Huggins’ father and both of his uncles played at GSF, so the senior receiver and running back is living out what the previous generation of his family was unable to realize.
“He’s done told me I’ve done something he couldn’t, so he’s excited for us and hopes we go all the way,” Huggins said of his father. “. . . We’re going to play our hearts out and hope for the best.”
Mired in mediocrity
Green Sea Floyds formed its football team in the first year of the merger of Green Sea and Floyds high schools, neither of which had football teams at the time.
Head coach Rusty Holt enlisted Elvington to be his assistant and both were new to the county. Elvington had been a teacher at Terrells Bay and Holt taught at Manning High, so former Floyds teacher and basketball coach Thelton Powell advised the young coaches on the school’s best athletes and what position would best be suited for each player.
GSF played junior varsity football in 1976-77 and went undefeated in ’77, albeit with juniors on the team. The Trojans were so enamored with their accomplishment they printed T-shirts commemorating it.
It would be the last time they went through a season without at least two losses, though conversely they have had three winless seasons, the last in 2014.
The Trojans went 3-7 in their first season of varsity football in 1978. “We were very respectable,” said Elvington, 65, who left after that season for a job at Mullins High. That was followed by marks of 1-9 and 2-8. The first winning season came in 1982, they made the playoffs and finished 8-4 in 1983, and had one of their best seasons in 1984, going 8-2 under Holt.
But the prosperity was short-lived. The Trojans were winless in 1987 and endured 13 consecutive losing seasons from 1990-2002, including going 1-19 in 1996-97 when they were outscored 633-90. They had their third winless season in 2014.
In the program’s first couple decades, prior to the increased mechanization of tobacco harvesting, the team was hindered by the industry. Elvington recalls practices in the evenings when players got off work in the tobacco fields, if players were available at all.
“A lot of times we’d struggle to get kids out to practice until school started,” said Elvington, who said transportation for players in the school’s large rural attendance area was also an issue. “Once school started they’d want to come out. You can’t really build a program with that situation.
“It was frustrating to not have all the players there, or the players didn’t have the desire to play.”
Since Holt left in the mid-1980s, the Trojans have had little coaching stability. The program has had at least 13 coaches over the past 35 seasons, none retained more than five seasons.
“A lot of people would come in and see the situation, and like one coach told me, even when it’s going good it’s a struggle,” said Elvington, who kept statistics for the Trojans last season. “A lot of kids didn’t know what it meant to be a football player. To play for a state championship you have to be all in, so to speak. And I think that’s where they are now.”
A changing culture
Donnie Kiefer is in his second season leading the GSF program and 32nd year as a head coach. He retired in North Carolina but wanted to continue coaching and his wife likes the beach. He has previously coached at both large and small schools.
“I like small-school football. I think it’s exciting. It’s the only show in town,” Kiefer said. “I think coaching really makes a difference at that level because you have what you have. . . . Once I talked to them about it I was impressed with what they were willing to commit to be a good program.”
The Trojans had improved from 3-7 in 2015 to 6-6 with their first playoff win in a decade in 2016 under five-year coach Tony Sullivan.
“They were getting better. They went 6-6 and won a playoff game, and Tony Sullivan had gotten them going in the right direction, but it still wasn’t anywhere like it needed to be,” Kiefer said. “When I first got there I told them, ‘Look, we need to get to the point where 6-6 is a down year.’ ”
The team went 6-6 and won a playoff game again last year, but it was a season with turmoil as three good players were dismissed after a fight in a game against Creek Bridge and nine other players were suspended during the season.
“Coming back this year I think our guys have bought in more, they’ve understood more of what it takes to be a champion,” Kiefer said. “It’s more than just having good talent. You have to be prepared, you have to prepare well offensively, defensively and physically.”
The high school program has benefited from a community recreation football program that has become more structured and effective in getting youth interested in the sport in recent years, and an improved weight room and fitness program under Kiefer, who has been a competitive lifter and college strength coach.
Kiefer said the weight room is second to none for a Class A school, and the strength, speed and agility program “is second to none at any level, 1A through 5A. All of those things combined, plus we have a great coaching staff . . . and kids with the heart that want to get it done.”
The house cleaning continued this year. Kiefer said GSF is without a couple players who started the season but made poor choices and are no longer on the team. “I think they get it. I think they understand now there are consequences to bad actions,” Kiefer said.
The Trojans have won six consecutive games, and in the past five they have scored at least 44 points and topped 60 points on three occasions. “Our athletes have gotten better where we can do more plays and throw the ball more,” Huggins said. “It just gives us bigger options.”
While the Trojans (10-3) are making their debut in the state championship game, Lamar is playing in its fourth straight title tilt against their fourth different opponent. The Silver Foxes won titles in 2015 and ’17 and lost in 2016.
Kiefer hopes this season’s playoff run is the beginning of a similar sustained excellence at GSF.
“When you’re winning big more people are going to want to be involved,” he said. “There are still some kids walking the halls that we wish were playing. It will grow as long as we continue to be successful and do things the right way.”
State Championship Schedule
At Benedict College
Green Sea Floyds vs. Lamar, 5 p.m.
Abbeville vs. Barnwell, 8 p.m.
At Williams-Brice Stadium
Myrtle Beach vs. Greer, 1 p.m.
Dillon vs. Chester, 4 p.m.
Dutch Fork vs. TL Hanna, 7:30 p.m.
Friday’s A and 2A games will be streamed on www.nfhsnetwork.com (subscription required).
The Class 3A, 4A and 5A games will be will be streamed on www.nfhsnetwork.com and carried in Florence/Myrtle Beach on WWMB CW21, and in other parts of the state they will be televised on WACH Fox 57.2 (TWC 1250), WCIV 36.1 (MyTV Charleston) in Charleston, and on WMYA MyTV 40 in Asheville/Greenville. The Myrtle Beach-Greer game will be broadcast on BOB 104.9 FM.