The Myrtle Beach football team took the field at Doug Shaw Memorial Stadium to their standard song.
With “The Champ is Here” blaring over the speakers, stretching precluded a few walk-throughs which preceded the Seahawks doing their thing in front of a couple hundred fans.
The scene was nothing like a fall game, but there were still memorable moments during the team’s spring game.
Quarterback Luke Doty slung it around a bit. Running backs Rayshad Feaster and Jaylen Sparkman each had a number of longer gains while getting most of the focus. Receiver Adam Randall caught a nifty touchdown at the pylon.
Shedrick Pointer continued to show why he is going to be one of the more dominant defensive players in 2019, lighting up a few of his teammates along the way. And each of the Lugo brothers — Marcus and Manny — recorded an interception.
The scene was enough to give coaches and players alike a taste of what’s to come, a small sample of football under the lights.
“We see some good things. We see some bad things,” head coach Mickey Wilson said. “We’ve got a long way to go, but we see some young guys stepping up and making some plays that we’re excited about.”
Said Pointer: “We like to fly around and keep working. We can get better every day.”
Wilson had said earlier in the day that his team went through the school day with a little different attitude than the rest of spring drills. They knew they were going to be able to hit each other, and at times, the prospects of contact make the rest of the lessons seem a little easier to absorb, according to coaches across the area.
However, as much as Myrtle Beach believes it gained from its spring game, the tradition itself is becoming the norm at fewer and fewer schools.
Locally, across the state and even nationally.
TAKING WHAT’S GIVEN
How Horry County teams crescendo their May sessions varies.
Of the nine South Carolina High School League teams in the district, only four played or will play publicized spring games. Two conducted super-controlled scrimmages of fewer than 60 plays (and as few as 20 plays for returning starters) without much fanfare. And three schools will have no spring game or even a full scrimmage during the window.
The strategy is nearly as diverse as how teams use the spring window as a whole.
Per SCHSL regulations, teams are only allowed 10 days of full-padded practice (and 20 sessions overall) between May 1-May 31. The spring games are counted toward that 10 days of full pads.
Even for those who don’t hold scrimmages or spring games, eliminating spring practices entirely isn’t really in consideration, at least not while their neighbors are still taking advantage of them.
“We probably hit more than anyone,” said Carolina Forest’s Marc Morris, who is in his sixth year with the Panthers but hasn’t held a spring game for the last three. “We do more live stuff with more backs. But we don’t take them to the ground.”
Morris was referring to what has become known as “thud” contact, where defensive players stop upon initial impact and even hold up teammates they otherwise would be trying to drive into the dirt.
The belief is that it eliminates the rugby-style scrums and decreases the potential for injury. Morris, for the record, said that starting running back David Legette, who ran for 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns last season, did not see an inside handoff this spring.
Still others go further.
Socastee interim coach Marty Jacobs used just three days of full-padded practice. Jacobs, who was the Aynor head coach from 1999-2004 before moving into an assistant role with the Braves, has witnessed first-hand how spring ball negatively impacted a team.
In 2007, starting quarterback Justin Rogers was caught from behind during spring practice, tore one of his anterior cruciate ligaments and missed his senior season. Then in 2010, starting defensive lineman George Alvarez broke an ankle and missed the majority of the following fall.
Those cases may not be commonplace, but even a minor concussion or high-ankle sprain in May can change a player’s trajectory for the coming weeks or months, when most schools ramp up their weight-room routines in advance of fall camp and the regular season.
“I can’t stand the thought of losing a player in the spring with an injury,” Jacobs said. “We’re real guarded with the amount of contact we have. I think players themselves look forward to the full-contact practices. Getting the players hyped, I think they like the fact that they can go full pads. But coaches kind of cringe.”
“My starting safety my second year here tore his ACL, and I said ‘That’s the dumbest thing we’re doing,’" he said. "They’re trying to be like college. That’s not what we’re trying to do. You can’t win a state championship in May. If you get a kid hurt, that’s it.”
ACROSS THE BOARD
Despite the impression given from the large amount of spring games at the college level — where many of them are televised on national broadcasts — the practice itself is actually decreasing year by year.
Since the SCHSL does not allow teams to charge for spring games, it does not monitor who uses them or who doesn’t. However, it is clear locally and even statewide that numbers are starting to swing more toward the national trend.
It is all based upon the rules of spring drills, and what is allowed.
In Georgia, teams are limited to 135 minutes of full contact per week and only on two consecutive days before a break is required. Tennessee recently adopted a nearly identical plan that will go into affect in 2020. Florida allows for 40-minute contact sessions and a similar consecutive-day policy as Georgia.
In North Carolina, however, players are allowed to don only helmets and shoulder pads during the spring, so full contact is not permissible. It’s the same in Virginia high schools. Those two states are in the majority, as 35 states do not allow full contact during the spring.
In South Carolina, the current system began in the early 2000s, when teams went from a limited number of partial-pads practice to the current 10 days with full pads, plus additional buffers for acclimating to heat and contact.
Some would be in favor dumping the policy for something else.
“I wish we would [implement] the North Carolina rules,” said Morris, who spent nine seasons as a head coach there. “We could wear shoulder pads in the summer. We could use shields. In South Carolina, we get 10 days in the spring and then for two months we’ve got to drop all of our pads. I think we’re missing the boat on that. Do I want 10 days in the spring or two months in the summer?”
The popularity and efficiency of seven-on-seven drills and camps over the summer has added credence to it, especially with more and more teams utilizing spread formations.
Pass-happy offenses can work on rhythm between quarterbacks and receivers while defenses learn to adjust and see more looks. Meanwhile, coaches of run-based offenses are still getting their teams together during a once quiet portion of the calendar and getting the competitive juices flowing.
A quick, unofficial survey of 17 coaches pointed to the overall feeling that playing opponents without pads was usually more valuable than playing intrasquad scrimmages in them.
Still, a select few believe the best use of the current policies still includes initiating contact. And that means a handful of spring games still exist in Horry County.
“It’s the closest thing you can get to a game-type setting,” Myrtle Beach’s Wilson said less than six months after he and his team won the school’s eighth state championship. “It’s been really beneficial for us in the past. … I think ‘Why change?’ I mean, we’ve tweaked. We’ve spilt our staff and done that. And just like any football coach, you’ve got your fingers crossed that nobody gets hurt. But it’s football. It is what it is.”