BLACKVILLE-HILDA -- Joey Kemp was 2 years old when his father dominated the backfield at Blackville-Hilda High.
But now it's the second generation's turn to try to lead the Hawks back to state supremacy.
Barry Armstrong was indeed a standout running back, garnering MVP honors at the NorthSouth All Star game in 1984. It was the same year the Hawks earned a Class A state title. Blackville-Hilda won titles in 1983 and 1984.
The senior also earned honorable mention All-American honors in track and field after capturing both the 100- and 200-meter run titles in record fashion at the state track meet. Fifteen years later, Barry Armstrong returns to almost every Blackville-Hilda home football game.
What he sees is his son Joey, tormenting defenses in leading the Hawks to an early 3-0 mark entering tonight's first Region 4-A contest with rival Williston-Elko at Blackville.
"He's been a big influence on me, and I feel like I'm trying to follow in some footsteps," Kemp said. "He tells me a lot about different things, but he's always said that grades come before anything. I just go out every Friday with a positive attitude, and play, just like he did."
The 5-foot-9, 170-pound senior leads the powerful Hawks rushing attack. He put up 101 yards on 13 carries in a 23-10 upset of Class AA rival Barnwell. He scored touchdowns on runs of 17 and 40 yards. Last week against Allendale-Fairfax, he piled up 136 yards on 25 carries, and broke a 69-yard touchdown run in the 27-14 win.
Kemp has gotten progressively better in the tradition-rich Blackville-Hilda program. He started last season as a junior and was one of three backs to gain 700 yards rushing.
"From last year to this year, he's been a big surprise," Hawks coach David Berry said. "Somewhere along, he's had a change of attitude. He's done a lot of things we've asked him to do. It's taking more than one person to bring him down, and that's a plus."
The Hawks, who finished 11-2 last season and lost in the third round of the Class A state playoffs, were supposed to falter a bit this season with the graduation of a bulk of last year's seniors. But with Kemp, Michael Williams and Todd Kemp anchoring the backfield to complement a stifling defense, the Hawks have come out just as potent.
Todd Kemp, also a senior, is Joey's uncle -- his mother Judie Armstrong's younger brother -- and is third on the team in rushing behind Williams. The trio will oppose Williston-Elko's Brian Williams, who paces the Devils in rushing.
Joey is friends with Williams, who rushed for 129 yards and two touchdowns on 35 carries in last week's 21-7 win over Bamberg-Ehrhardt. And Joey's cousin, Nick Smalls, leads Williston-Elko in tackles, tallying 15 against the Red Raiders.
"Lately we've been coming out flat, but hopefully we'll get things together quicker in the game," Kemp added. "This is a big game. All of us are friends, and it's a pretty big thing. Every year has gotten better for me. I'm looking for a winning season for the team, definitely.
"But like he (Barry) says, school is first."
Patrick Green at (803) 648-1395