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Thursday, January 2, 2014
The locker room at North Augusta High School was once again full on Friday morning as the South Carolina team of the Border Bowl began practice.
The squad is made up of 36 players from 12 high schools under the direction of North Augusta head coach Dan Pippin. Pippin and his coaching staff are excited with the talent that makes up the South Carolina team.
“It's a lot of fun and we have a lot of really good players,” he said. “About two periods into practice, Derrick (Quinn) came over and said how athletic we look. It's really exciting to have kids coming in from different teams. Being here to represent your state and area makes it really fun.”
Fresh off a week as a Shrine Bowl assistant coach, Pippin is excited about how quickly his Border Bowl team was able to pick up the system his coaches were putting in place.
“The kids are good, we put stuff in today that was pretty impressive,” he said after the first practice. “We didn't get in this much at the Shrine Bowl, so that's good. We're going to keep adding some stuff. We want to add some stuff for (Jauveer) Hammond from Strom Thurmond that will be beneficial for us. We kept things pretty basic, but they picked up our no-huddle stuff very quickly.”
Hammond and Bo Baldwin of South Aiken are the quarterbacks for Pippin's team. Baldwin, who threw for more than 1,200 yards and 11 touchdowns this season, called the practice a “fun” experience.
“It's an honor to be chosen to the team,” he said. “It's definitely fun practicing with guys who are above average players. We're all able to get into rhythm pretty quickly.”
Deondre Baskett, of Fox Creek High School, is excited about facing the Georgia team, but knows the practices with his teammates will allow for a better game experience.
“I'm just trying to get my feet under me,” he said. “I'm slipping a lot, but that will come to me once we get into practice. I expect the game to go smooth, we've got a lot of great players on this team that won't mess up too much.”
Baskett, the lone representative from Fox Creek, said his playing in the Border Bowl opens up an opportunity for his underclassmen teammates.
“Knowing that I'm the only person from my school makes it a lot better,” he said. “There's a big opportunity next year for the guys at my school to come out and play.”
Although Brandon Thomas is one of 11 North Augusta players on the roster, he called the Border Bowl practice experience “fun,” and said he expects to win the game.
“The first day of practice was slippery and muddy, a lot of guys have to get back in shape, but I think we're going to have a good team,” he said. “I think we're going to go out and do what we do best and we're going to win.”
One of the best aspects of the game, according to Thomas, is being around the different types of people.
“I like playing with the different personalities and backgrounds on this team,” Thomas said. “It's fun to be around everybody, it makes practice different. Everybody has a different background and personality, so it's getting to know new people and hanging out that makes things a lot of fun.”
The South Carolina team has a lot of talent on it, according to Pippin, including two players who have committed to play major college football.
“I think people should come watch this game because it's going to be a good show,” he said. “It's the best players in our area, probably some of the best in the state. Taylor Hearn, the left tackle, has already committed to Clemson, and Ronnie Tyler has already committed to (UNC) Charlotte. We've got a bunch of guys who can go Division II playing in the game, probably 10 to 15 with scholarship offers on a 36 man team. That's pretty good, when you've got that. I'm looking forward to seeing what Hammond can do in the offense and Bo (Baldwin) because he can throw it a mile. I was really impressed with Shaquez Wright from Silver Bluff. He comes from a different system entirely, he's not a zone (blocking) back, he's just got a lot of God-given ability.”
While the game doesn't kick off until Jan. 11, Pippin noted the players looked and sounded excited about practice.
“I'm happy that the kids look like they want to be here. They want to know what we're going to do. I told them they need to take a lot of pride in this. It's different than the North-South Game or the Shrine Bowl, because after those games are over, you won't see those kids again. This game, we'll see these guys at the mall or when you go out to eat. There's more pride in this one, representing this area. I like winning, so when I see these guys, I want to be able to do it with a win.”
The inaugural Border Bowl will be televised live by WJBF-News Channel 6 in partnership with The Augusta Chronicle. The seniors-only game will be played at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 11, at Lucy C. Laney Stadium, 1339 Laney Walker Blvd., Augusta. Proceeds from the game will go to Ronald McDonald House.
T.J. Lundeen is a reporter for the North Augusta Star. Follow him on Twitter @lundeentj for more updates.