After winning his third state title in six years, Wardlaw Academy coach Mark Rodgers sees no reason why his program can’t go for more in the future.
“I think the well still has plenty of water in it,” Rodgers said.
Another state championship could have people asking what’s in the water around the small Edgefield County school.
For guiding Wardlaw to an undefeated season and a second consecutive state title, Rodgers is The Augusta Chronicle’s All-Area Independent Coach of the Year.
The Patriots are described by Rodgers as a “blue-collared” program that develops its players at a young age by coming up through the private school near Johnston, S.C. They groom them at the junior varsity ranks to be ready to dominate the SCISA 8-Man level when they hit the field the first time.
The formula appears to be working. Rodgers won a state title in his first year at the helm and has now won the past two.
“When I came in, I said tradition doesn’t graduate, we just pass the torch,” Rodgers said. “The underclassmen have taken up the torch. It glows pretty brightly. I think the program is in very good shape. I expect next year to defend the title all the way to the state game.”
Wardlaw had plenty reasons to expect a title defense in 2017. The Patriots returned many of their key pieces from the 2016 championship team, including seniors Caleb Kemp, Brett Gossett and Sanford Satcher.
After routing its first six opponents with little trouble, Wardlaw was on its way. The Patriots gave up 14 points twice as their highest total allowed in the regular season, and they reached as high as 72 points on offense.
They entered the playoffs at 10-0 and peaking at the perfect time, so it came as little surprise when they posted a season-high 80 points against Cathedral Academy in the first round. After a 58-8 rout of Beaufort Academy in the semifinals, they faced Northside Christian Academy in the state championship Nov. 17.
The Patriots found themselves trailing 16-8 early, but a sluggish start didn’t derail the perfect season. They rallied to win 72-22 and hoist another trophy.
“The team just hunkered down and scored, and the defense went out and did what they’ve done all year,” he said. “That basically started the train. We kept rolling on offense and the defense stood its ground.”
Rodgers attributed the undefeated year to having players who embraced a team-first philosophy. No single player took over the statistical side of the game and they played together to pick up victories while staying healthy throughout the schedule.
It also helps to have a winning culture established within the program. Rodgers has that at Wardlaw, and he doesn’t see it going anywhere.
“I’ve had plenty of good help and I’ve had some good boys. That makes a world of difference,” Rodgers said.