Austin Adams is used to the laughs.
The St. James senior says confidently that the Sharks can not only get to the playoffs, but that they win the first postseason game in program history. Considering this is a team that has yet to have a winning record, he understands the opposing viewpoint.
“I get called crazy all the time. It’s a very common thing,” said Adams, a starting running back and linebacker. “I enjoy it. It’s kind of nice being the underdog. I would like to be a part of growing and set the landmark for a team.
“We’ve only won so many games, but when we do, it’s like ‘wow, that’s a great a feeling.’ ”
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Adams has reason to be so optimistic.
In the second year of coach Mark Fischer’s tenure, the Sharks have one of the largest – if not the largest – varsity roster in school history. Some of the best athletes from other sports have joined the football ranks.
Adams credits that in large part to the enthusiasm Fischer brought to the program after a successful stint at Virginia’s Louisa County, a school he took to the top of that state’s pecking order.
“Coach Fischer’s done it before,” Adams said. “He took a school that was worse than us and made them a winning program. It’s going to happen [at St. James], and it’s going to happen under Coach Fischer. People are going to start respecting us, and everybody wants to be a part of that.”
Fischer takes a much more factual approach.
“I’m not so presumptuous to say it has anything to do with me,” he said. “I just know the numbers are up. There are some upperclassmen who haven’t played and now they’re playing. I’m just happy that more kids want to be involved in what we’re doing.”
In terms of Xs and Os, it translates to some of the biggest problems the Sharks had in the coach’s first year. Lack of depth at key positions magnified every tweaked ankle or sprained wrist.
This season, it may be less of a problem overall, but it should also help the team replace several key contributors. None of those will stand out more than the loss of tailback Gregg Johnsen. Last year, he set a school record by running for 1,586 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Adams will step into the primary ball carrier spot in Fischer’s run-first scheme. But there’s also senior Champ Mose and sophomore Allen Crum. Junior Tyus Goodman, the team’s speed option, will see plenty of carries off the edge after rushing for 361 yards last year.
The running game may be the least of the Sharks’ worries, however.
St. James gave up an average of 29 points per game and an average of 40.5 in the four region losses to Myrtle Beach, Socastee, Wilson and Georgetown.
If nothing else, those blowout losses allowed the team to get plenty of reps for younger guys who will now be in key spots. Take the defensive line as an example. There were games last year where the coaching staff rotated as many as 15 different players at those positions in one contest, looking for a combination that worked while trying to keep players fresh.
“I think the silver lining is that it was a good learning experience,” Fischer said. “It was a learning curve for the coaches, me, the kids. Sometimes when it happened, it was because they were just that much better than us. The games where we could have gotten better at, that’s what we used.”
Time will tell if St. James has closed the gap.
And if Adams truly is on to something.