Brian Neal saw the potential, all the desire and talent at McCormick. He also saw the school as a way to return closer to home.
Neal, who attended Ninety Six High School and was later the head coach there, was at North Myrtle Beach before taking the McCormick head coaching job prior to the 2011 season.
His first year was a good one, as the Chiefs won a state playoff game. But this fall was even greater.
McCormick advanced to the Class A Division II state championship game, finishing 11-3. Because of the successful season, Neal is The Augusta Chronicle’s South Carolina football coach of the year.
“It was fun, obviously. The team bought in early – actually bought in last year,” Neal said. “They believed they could get there.”
Neal thinks the first-round win against Great Falls in 2011 helped make this year’s run possible. He said the win proved to his players that there was a chance to advance in the playoffs. Neal also said the 27-13 victory probably impassioned this year’s team to do even better.
The Upper State champions had veterans Adrien Peterson, a star linebacker, and Kenneth Gunter, a defensive end, to spearhead the breakthrough season.
Not surprisingly, Neal’s team did it with defense – just the way the coach likes it.
The Chiefs gave up single-digit points five times in 14 games.
In the three postseason wins, McCormick allowed 13.7 points per game.
While McCormick lost to Cross 38-26 in the final, Neal takes pride in his team’s effort. The Chiefs trailed 20-0 before making a push.
Now Neal’s team hopes to have another long playoff act next season.
There will be new faces in spots, but with the junior varsity team having a winning season, Neal isn’t lowering the demands.
“They’ll have the same expectations to carry on the tradition – or hopefully what will become the tradition,” he said.