The sport of football is a massive passion for a lot of residents in South Carolina, especially in the high school ranks. There have been many players that have continued to go on into the collegiate or NFL ranks and earned successful careers as a result.
In terms of producing talent and champions specifically, there is one city that has a rich history of doing so.
Up the road in York County lies Rock Hill, with three public high schools that have won at least one state championship in football since the 2000s: Northwestern, Rock Hill, and South Pointe High Schools.
“Football in Rock Hill has made its name, and therefore ‘importance,’ from the coaches and players who have found a way to work around the obstacles and still be successful,” Strait Herron, the former coach at South Pointe High School, said.
Paige Wofford, the current coach at Northwestern High School, said that compared to other areas in the Palmetto State, football in Rock Hill is praised very heavily by the community.
“I have coached across the state from the Upstate to the Lowcountry. Football in Rock Hill is unique because of the importance placed on it by the community and the three high schools,” Wofford said.
Being the oldest high school in the city, Rock Hill High School set the stage for many successful teams the city has seen over the past several decades. Beginning in the mid-1940s, the Bearcats won three state championships at the 2A over a span of eight years from 1945-to 1953. Earlier in the century, Rock Hill won two more championships respectively in 2002 and 2004.
With great teams come skillful players and the Bearcats have produced their fair share of theirs throughout the years, including Gerald Dixon, Tori Gurley, Johnathan Hefney, Chris Hope, and Johnathan Meeks.
In 1971, Rock Hill opened its second public high school: Northwestern High School. One could argue that the school has had the most success of its other two neighbors.
The Trojans have consistently been one of the top programs in South Carolina for a long time. Not only does the school have seven state championships to add to its resume', but it has also been ranked as one of the top ten football schools in the state most years.
A few of their players have also gotten national attention as well.
Former Trojan Justin Worley was named the 2010 National Gatorade Player of the Year for his performance on the field. Johnathan Joseph, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Benjamin Watson are additional players who have had long careers in the NFL.
“No other area in the state has produced as much NFL talent, especially when compared to size. I believe the last number was 41 players from Rock Hill who have been on NFL rosters,” Wofford said.
South Pointe High School became the third high school in the Rock Hill area, opening in 2005. While only 17 years old, the Stallions quickly attached themselves to the thick of football success in the city.
The school has won seven state championships and like its neighboring school Northwestern, the Stallions have had their guys receive national attention for their contributions to the program.
Former South Pointe star Jadeveon Clowney became the number one ranked high school football player in the country and the only South Carolinian to receive that honor currently. Others such as Stephon Gilmore, Devonte Holloman, Derion Kendrick, and Nick McCloud continue to have strong careers after playing football for the Stallions.
“When a sport can produce an NFL number one draft pick, an NFL defensive MVP, a Super Bowl champion, and multiple college national champions, it is hard to deny the sport recognition and importance. It is important because it has been an avenue to help many young men acquire much success,” Herron said.
With strong population growth in York County and Rock Hill, the city is expected to continue to produce strong football teams with its three local high schools, something that will catch the eye of coaches and scouts throughout the country who are looking at the rising South Carolina city.
“Football [in Rock Hill] brings the different communities together on Friday nights and throughout the year like no other event. Rivalries have developed over the years and beating your cross-town opponents has become important to the teams, players, and alumni,” Wofford said.
While players can thrive in successful programs, Herron states that the most important trait is to develop players with strong leadership skills, something that he says is beneficial in having successful high school football programs in Rock Hill.
“We have the opportunity to provide young people with brighter futures than if we did not have those things. It is important to note that almost every kid that plays football wants to go play in college, but the reality is that will not happen for most. However, with the correct type of leadership, every player in every sport can learn attributes that can help to create future success,” Herron said.