COLUMBIA — Dann Holland sat at the front of the S.C. High School League conference room with a smile on his face.
Hunter-Kinard-Tyler’s head coach, flanked by assistants Dedrick Tisdale and Jarvis Davis, answered questions about his team’s upcoming state championship game. But if he had it his way, he would have done things differently on Monday.
“People asked me this morning, ‘Coach are you excited about today and everything?’” Holland recalled. “I said, ‘I’m more excited to get back on the practice field with my football team because that’s where I feel most comfortable. No offense to you guys, but I’d rather be sitting in my seventh-grade social studies class right now.”
Championship week provides a different air for teams, but it’s a lot different for H-K-T as the Trojans go after their first-ever state title in football. That said, Holland and his team will look to keep things moving throughout the next couple of days in a “business as usual” fashion.
“We want to stay in our routine,” Holland said. “With the weather this week, practicing two days out of school and playing on Friday at noon, I think whoever handles this is probably going to come out on top.”
For H-K-T, the entire experience is new, from the press conferences to practicing on the week of Thanksgiving.
Meanwhile, Timmonsville head coach Bill Tate has been a part of this before. Now in his second stint with the Whirlwinds, Tate made six title appearances and won titles in 1995 as well as 1999.
“These kids have never experienced anything like that and this is the first time for them,” Tate said of his 7-6 team. “The community, you know, a lot of people weren’t around when we played in those championships. So the community is excited now. Just to get back and know you can participate, that’s why we’re glad to be here.”
And so are Holland and the Trojans. It’s a practice they’ve been looking forward to since H-K-T’s 2012 Upper State title game loss to McCormick.
“We call it the ‘gobble-gobble’ practice being able to practice on Thursday morning of Thanksgiving,” Holland said. “Then, you know you’re playing for the state title. So this is the culmination of a lot of hard work by a lot of people — namely our kids.”
Tate is well-aware of what H-K-T has done this year with 11 wins and two losses by three and six points respectively. Knowing that, the Whirlwinds understand they have their work cut out for them.
“To be honest speaking, we haven’t watched a lot of film,” Tate said. “We just traded and, of course you know with the information we’ve gotten, they’re a very good football team. It’s going to take every effort, every effort from our offense and defense to play with these guys. They come from a good region. They’re well-coached and that’s why they’re here. They’re here because they are a good football team.
“So, everything concerns me. When you’re a coach, you’re always concerned about something. I just want to make sure our guys show up and come to play ready to play football. I’m pretty sure both teams will be out there ready to play and lay it on the line.”
Likewise, H-K-T understands who stands between them and that coveted state championship trophy. While the obvious answer is Timmonsville, the Trojans have to make sure they are taking care of the little things that need to be done both on and off the field before game time.
“We have a lot of respect for Coach Tate and his legacy,” Holland said. “We know these guys are excited to play for him, but our biggest thing this week is how we handle ourselves. We’ve got a day of school today and, when we left this morning, it was pretty exciting around there. One of our coaches stayed behind to make sure everything stays on the down low. We’ve got another day of school tomorrow. When you start dealing with teenage boys, strange things can happen.
“Obviously in Class A football, we can’t afford to lose anybody. So it’s kind of a fine line and I know Coach has eluded to this already. You want to enjoy the moment. It’s a big week and you want to enjoy it, but you’ve also got to be able to separate (yourself). We’ve got a football game to play.”
n Get ready for the game and get full coverage on Friday at TheTandD.com