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July 13, 2010

Byrnes football to stay on another level

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Dallas Jackson is the Senior Analyst for RivalsHigh. Email him your question, comment or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.

DUNCAN, S.C. - In the world of high school football, there are tiers of teams.

There are the bottom dwellers that can be marked off as a win in the preseason.

There are the good teams that may compete for district or section titles, but most know aren't legitimate contenders for a state title.

There are the better teams that will make consistent runs in the playoffs and may step up and steal a state title once a decade.

And then there's Duncan (S.C.) Byrnes.

Where second is not good enough. Ever.

"I still have a sick feeling thinking about last year," Byrnes head coach Chris Miller said. "We beat [Roebuck (S.C.)] Dorman pretty good earlier in the season and I don't think the kids thought they needed to work as much as they needed to later. It isn't to take anything away from what they (Dorman) did, they beat us straight up, but I don't think they would do it again."

This year's Byrnes team wants to make sure that there isn't that lingering feeling. Not just for its coach, but for the team's sake as well.

The team wants to return the state title to, what they feel, is its rightful place. Duncan.

"We are out here working hard," senior quarterback Zach Blair said. "But we need to be ready for that first game and not looking forward to the last one."

Or looking back for that matter.

When Byrnes opens its season with nationally-ranked Hoover (Ala.) High on Aug. 28, it will have plenty of holes to fill, and a community that does not tolerate underperformance.

"There is a lot of pressure," Blair said. "Everybody here expects to win all the time. We have to work hard to do it. We know that, and we are going to do that."

Blair is not alone. The team's vocal leader, linebacker Andre Brewton, says this team has the chance to be special.

"We are not superstars," he said. "But let 'em know not to underestimate us. Byrnes is a team that is out to be the best."

The team nearly made it to the nation's No. 1 spot in the RivalsHigh 100 last season, starting the year at No. 2 and playing toe-to-toe in a nationally-televised game with Ft. Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas before falling.

The Rebels lost that game, but it helped show the team what it takes to stay in the upper echelon of high school football nationally.

Class of 2013 wide receiver Akia Booker has learned those lessons early.

"We need to show up everyday," he said. "We are always playing with hype. There are a lot of emotional ups and downs but we need to stay right. Hit the weight room every day. Practice hard everyday and play hard every game. We have to play to win."

That means many players will have to step up. The majority of the team will be playing in the spotlight for the first time.

The Rebels return just four starters on offense, all on the offensive line, as well as just three on defense.

Junior running back Shakeem Wharton thinks the team's simple philosophy will lead to success.

"We just have to go out and play our game," he said. "Just play hard and no one will beat us."

That is what the fans in Duncan want to hear.

But they also hear the naysayers. The folks who think the team is down. The critics who point to the losses of Chas Dodd, Marcus Lattimore, Brandon Willis, and many more as a reason for the Rebel demise.

The team, however, looks at its current locker room as a reason why it will succeed.

"We have a lot of guys who are ready to step up," Blair said. "A lot of us only will have one year to play and show what we can do. This is our time to shine and make our names mean something at Byrnes."

The list of names in the annals of Byrnes football is long, and this storied and proud program only expects, or accepts, success.

"We create players," Brewton said. "This program is good. We coach speed. We coach strength. We get ready to play."

They get ready to win.

"I can't say it enough," said Blair. "We work hard and we aren't afraid of the pressure.

"We pick each other up. We don't have superstars but we have a great team. We are prepared to win another state title."

Only time will tell if Blair, and the rest of the Byrnes leaders, are right.

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