Ask Tommy Norwood if his St. James football team has found a way to get past a demoralizing 2018 season, and the Sharks coach will tell you he thinks his squad has.
Ask the players, and it’s a little different story.
But maybe not for the reasons you would think.
“We haven’t moved on from 1-7. That’s still in our heads,” senior lineman Jemale Faulkner said. “You look back, and I’ve been on varsity since my sophomore year. We’ve only won three games. This is our career here. We need to go out better than that.”
Indeed, after a 2-8 record in 2017, the Sharks’ turbulent 2018 season was almost destined to be worse. Joey Price resigned in April just prior to spring drills, and Norwood was formally promoted less than two months later from his spot as the team’s defensive coordinator.
As much experience as Norwood brought to the table, the weeks off in September and early October due to the floods from Hurricane Florence all but crippled the Sharks’ would-be growth.
After the long delay, they returned to the field for four days of practice before facing West Florence, Carolina Forest and Conway in the span of 12 days. The average score of those three losses against the three best teams in the region was 49-16, and just like that, the hopes of a playoff berth were all but gone.
Turning the corner — especially at St. James, where the Sharks have struggled more often than not — won’t be easy. Still, Norwood believes he’s seen some progress.
“As far as St. James and where we’ve been, we just need to get this football program going,” he said. “The first thing we need to worry about is our house before we worry about anyone else’s. We’re a long ways from the roof, but we’ve got a few bricks laid.”
Case in point: The team switched offensive looks midway through last season, going more to shotgun, two-back approach after starting the season out with the quarterback under center. That will remain, even though the team will have new starters all over the offense. Defensively, the team is going to float more defensive backs than linebackers after Norwood recognized how adept his personnel was toward the back side.
Can all that equate to a rare trip to the playoffs?
“Right now, I would say no. But we’re making the right steps,” Faulkner said. “Our goal is to make the playoffs, without a doubt. We’re pretty close. We have the talent.”
It will be an uphill climb.
The second-year of the two-year scheduling block will include non-region games against Loris, Hilton Head, North Myrtle Beach, Georgetown and Aynor — all of whom made the playoffs last fall. Then it is on to the region slate, where St. James will likely be picked fifth or sixth in virtually every preseason poll.
Much like he did last year, though, the Sharks coach won’t classify success only in terms of the final scoreboard most Friday nights.
“You won’t hear us talk much about wins and losses,” Norwood said. “We want to win them all. But we just want to get better.”