Myrtle Beach players dig the respect.
Earlier this week when the statewide media poll was released, the Seahawks leapfrogged previous No. 1 Hartsville for the top spot. All Hartsville did last week was destroy another Class AAA team by 46 points. Still, Myrtle Beach was considered the better team, at least at that moment.
While the poll – a set of weekly rankings compiled from nine newspaper reporters around the state – doesn’t mean anything in terms of wins and losses, it goes to show that once again, Myrtle Beach’s reputation speaks mostly for itself.
To the media, to football fans around the state, and, yes, especially to opponents.
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After all, the worst Myrtle Beach has done since the start of 2005 was the three times it made it to the state quarterfinals. Between then and now, the Seahawks have won two state titles, changed coaches and had plenty of player turnover.
“The guys we have around us, the coaches, we’re just hungry,” senior do-everything player C.J. Cooper said. “We always want to do the best possible and work as hard as possible. We feel like if we do that, we’ll get the things we want.
“It’s the drive to get back to the state championship. That glory that you have when you get there and all that fun and knowing you worked so hard to accomplish it is a great feeling.”
Cooper, then a sophomore, was the third-string quarterback during Myrtle Beach’s 2010 state title. He didn’t play much that season, but he considered it his indoctrination into the Seahawk aura.
It’s a recent tradition that includes playing non-region opponents – like Friday’s game versus South Florence – against only teams from the state’s largest class. It includes defending Doug Shaw Stadium
It includes the belief that Myrtle Beach is only a few games away from that next playoff run.
Playing the big boys
When Mickey Wilson took over following Scott Early’s departure after the 2008 season, he made it a priority to prepare his team for the postseason.
He didn’t feel he needed to wait until region play to get the process moving.
He took an ultra-aggressive approach to signing two-year contracts for home-and-away games. The Seahawks, he decided, would only play Class AAAA non-region if at all possible. This year will mark the third consecutive season implementing that tactic.
“It keeps us playing at a high level,” he said. “There’s no room for let down when you’re playing AAAA opponents. Our players get used to that. They’re trained for it.”
The way he puts it, playing opponents with bigger rosters and coaching staffs also adds another benefit. The professional approach Wilson and his staff bring to practices early in the season gets a boost. Instead of preparing for a cake walk in August and September – when the games carry no playoff implications – the players understand what they’re facing.
It keeps those practices even more crisp.
“We could have easily come out here and scheduled A schools, AA schools, and beat up on all of them,” senior linebacker Octavius Thomas said. “But we like a challenge. It’s all business around here. So we like to play the best around here.
“These AAAA teams, we’re going to get their best shot.”
For the most part, Myrtle Beach has withstood those blows before adding a counterpunch of its own.
Since Wilson moved from offensive coordinator to head coach, Myrtle Beach has lost just three of the 13 games it has played against schools from Class AAAA. Two of those came to powerhouse Byrnes (2009, 2010); the other was last season’s Victory Bell loss at Conway.
Finishing the non-region portion of the schedule 4-1 each of the past two years may have prevented a gaudy national ranking. However, what it also did was let the Seahawks see region games a bit differently.
Myrtle Beach is 15-0 against region foes in Wilson’s tenure.
Defending the Doug Shaw turf
Not surprisingly, the Seahawks’ record at home is equally as impressive as its tally against Class AAAA teams.
Myrtle Beach is 21-3 at Doug Shaw Memorial Stadium in the last three-plus season. What most people don’t understand is that as ungracious as the Seahawks are to most visiting opponents, the facility itself couldn’t be more giving to the Seahawks leading up to each game.
Doug Shaw’s FieldTurf surface doesn’t turn muddy, and it drains faster than any of the natural-grass fields.
“Here’s the thing that’s great about our turf: We don’t ever miss any practice time,” Wilson said. “We can come out here unless it’s lightning and get a great practice in. That adds up over a long period of time. If you add that up this year, you’re probably talking 7-12 practices already. Over a four, five-year span, not missing any practices, that’s huge.”
Other schools in the area are forced to move inside during times of heavy rain. In the last two weeks of August, some area teams reported being able to practice outside as few as twice. Instead, they were forced into gyms, essentially playing touch football or having simple walk throughs.
Meanwhile, it was business as usual for the Seahawks.
It has helped make sure Myrtle Beach isn’t shell-shocked by the thought of playing anyone, even a team like South Florence that is 3-0 and coming off a 42-0 victory over Wilson last week. It hardly matters that the Seahawks needed long fourth-quarter touchdown passes to beat the Bruins each of the last two years.
Or that South Florence is using this game as a way to prove something to itself.
“If our kids could pull out a victory, it would be a big boost for us this year,” first-year Bruins coach David Prince said. “It is a good measuring stick for us and lets us know where we stand. Myrtle Beach is well coached and about as quality of football team as there is out there.”
Wilson is quick to point out that his coaching staff, scheduling and field advantage doesn’t amount to much without a roster capable of making it count.
“You’ve got to have great players, too,” he said before adding a reference straight out of Kentucky. “You wouldn’t put a mule in the Derby.”
The horses Wilson has this season have run Friday’s race before.
Call it the Myrtle Beach pedigree.