Three of the area's most consistently successful football programs – North Augusta, Strom Thurmond and Williston-Elko – saw their head coaches depart for other positions after last season.
To fill the vacancies, Strom Thurmond and Williston-Elko promoted offensive coordinators Antwuan Hillary and Derek Youngblood, respectively. North Augusta hired externally, bringing in Brian Thomas from Northern Guilford High School in Greensboro, N.C.
All three took the time recently to answer questions about their new positions.
How was the first day of practice this year different than other years?
Hillary: “In the years past, just taking care of the offense, that was kind of my job, and now just kind of seeing the big picture and just watching everybody, making sure everybody's on the same page and everybody's doing what they're supposed to do.”
Thomas: “Even being here in April, I'm still learning a lot of faces, a lot of names.”
Youngblood: “Last few years, I fortunately only had to worry about quarterbacks. ... This year, responsible for all the players, responsible for all the coaches, making sure everything's set up, eligibility and all that good stuff. Very different from years past, being involved in everything.”
How do expectations affect you as head coach?
AH: “It just kind of motivates me, more than anything, to keep the tradition going. I know I've got big shoes to fill, you know, but at the end of the day, as long as I go about it the right way, the kids are working hard, and I hope we see good results.”
BT: “The big thing – you can't worry about expectations, as far as what people expect of you. All I can do is go out and work hard every day. I've got a great coaching staff; I mean, those guys do a great job.”
DY: “Being from here and coaching here for a long time, you know what the expectations are. People expect for you to win, and our kids know that.”
What has been the biggest change from your old position to this one?
AH: “Just dealing with the kids around school. They're my responsibility now.”
BT: “Paperwork. Seems like it's paperwork and phone calls and e-mails every day.”
DY: “Really just being a part of every facet of the entire program, dealing with other coaches of other sports.”
What have you heard from the community since taking the position?
AH: “This community loves football. We've got the best fans in the world, and I really believe that, but I've heard nothing but positive things so far.”
BT: “Everybody's been very supportive. ... I've met a lot of great people, and everybody's been very supportive in everything, whatever we need.”
DY: “It's been great. We've always had great community support here; the community's always treated our coaching staff really well.”
What are you most looking forward to about the upcoming season?
AH: “We play a tough non-region schedule, and just the day-to-day preparation. ... Just seeing how our coaching is transferring to Friday night.”
BT: “I guess just kind of see where we're at. It's kind of like school, you know, you study, study, study and you take a test. Friday nights are our tests, and we've got to see whether we pass or fail.
DY: “I think the thing I'm most excited about is some of the opportunities that our players are going to get to have. Going to play at Bamberg-Ehrhardt, the first time our kids have ever done that on the high-school level. Going to Silver Bluff and playing against a quality program like Silver Bluff.”
What, if anything, makes you anxious about the upcoming season?
AH: “Just anxious to get started. ... Penalties, that's one thing that stands out, you know whether to take a penalty or not take a penalty.”
BT: “No, as long as we prepare, as long as we've done the little things, you know, the big things take care of themselves. The little things are going to make us successful.”
DY: “You just want to make sure that you're doing things the right way. With us, you know, we want to make sure that we're consistent. We want to be consistent, and we want to be tough.”
Who is your biggest role model in coaching?
AH: “Definitely Coach (Lee) Sawyer. I've learned everything, as far as about football, that I could possibly learn from him.”
BT: “The reason I got into coaching years ago was somebody helped me. ... I had a couple great college coaches, of course, Coach (Cally) Gault (of Presbyterian), I was the last freshman class, and he retired that year. Coach Elliot Poss was a great coach; he passed away a couple years ago.”
DY: “I've been extremely fortunate. I was able to work for Justin Gentry, who was here at Williston ... and I worked with him for seven years, and I worked for Dwayne (Garrick) for six. So for 13 years, I only worked for those two guys. Both of them are great football coaches. They're even better men.”
How do you plan on putting “your mark” on the program?
AH: “Obviously, we've had success, but my motto to our kids is, 'Just do more.' Don't accept just the third round of the playoffs or just winning the region; we're try to get to that next step.”
BT: “A lot of it with the head coach, it takes on the personality of the coach. ... Just trying to bring something a little different to the table. More family atmosphere; we had a family night at practice the other night.”
DY: “We want our style of play to be different. We want people when they walk out of here on a Friday night, you know, I don't really care too much about them talking about how we won. I want them to take, 'They flew around, and they dominated people, and they played the game the right way.' That's what I want to put in the program.”
What are your biggest strengths as a coach?
AH: “Motivating. I love kids, I love our kids, and I just love seeing kids get better. And I think motivation has a lot to do with that.”
BT: “I think I have a good knowledge of the game, a good understanding of kids.”
DY: “It's ironic that the first year I was here, I taught Christian Sapp and Justice Wallace in the sixth grade, and now I'm their head coach and now they're seniors in high school. The good thing with me is I've built relationships with all of these kids.”
What is the biggest positive about the program you took over?
AH: “Just the past, more than anything. These kids are hungry for success; we know how to win because of the people before us. Just the pride they take in the program. Everywhere ain't like here.”
BT: “I think having the coaching staff that I have. Those guys have done a great job here and are going to continue to do a great job.”
DY: “There was a lot of great things in place. I got a letter from a buddy of mine that I used to work with. In the letter was, 'I'm happy for you. Don't screw it up.'... So for me, all I did was just took the keys to the bus. It's the same bus, and we're driving it in the same direction.”
Jeremy Timmerman has a journalism degree from Mercer University. Follow him on Twitter @ASJTimm.
Staff Photo by Scott Rodgers North Augusta High School head football coach Brian Thomas offers words of encouragement to his players during a drill.×
Staff photo by Jeremy Timmerman First-year Strom Thurmond head coach Antwuan Hillary patrols the field during Friday's first session of football practice.×
Staff photo by Jeremy Timmerman Antwuan Hillary is entering his first year as Strom Thurmond's head football coach.×
Staff photo by Jeremy Timmerman First-year Williston-Elko head coach Derek Youngblood addresses his team after Friday's first session of practice.×
Staff photo by Jeremy Timmerman Derek Youngblood is entering his first year as Williston-Elko's head football coach.×