Chamber hosts coaches’ forecast

Posing with the ‘wood’ symbol of friendly rivalry between Blythewood and Westwood High Schools are, from left, Westwood’s Athletic Director Jason Powell, Principal Cheryl Guy and Head Football Coach Matt Quinn; Blythewood High School’s Head Football Coach Jason Seidel, Principal Matt Cunningham and Athletic Director Barry Mizzell. The coaches each spoke about their respective team’s upcoming football season during the Blythewood Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting on Tuesday. | Barbara Ball

BLYTHEWOOD – Blythewood High School Athletic Director Barry Mizzell opened the annual Blythewood Chamber of Commerce coaches’ assessment of the upcoming football season with the news that BHS will announce its first athletic hall of fame class later this week.

“We’ve got five members going in, and we’re gonna recognize those folks on Nov. 1, the last football game here against Spring Valley,” Mizzell said. “We’re really excited about that. This is our thirteenth year. We thought it was finally time to get this started.”

Mizzell and Westwood High School Head Coach Jason Powell then introduced their respective head football coaches Jason Seidel, in his second year as head of the Bengals, and first-year Westwood coach Matt Quinn.

First on the podium was Seidel.

Guiding BHS Team

“I can’t tell you what we’re gonna be, I think we’re gonna be really good, but we’ll find out,” Seidel said about the coming season. “We’ve got a lot of guys who can play, but they’ve never played on a Friday night. Until the lights go on, you never know what type of kid you got.”

Blythewood went 3-7 in 2017 and was in need of a new direction. Seidel, who coached at Hickory Ridge, N.C., and took the Raging Bulls to deep runs in the playoffs, guided the Bengals to a 6-4 effort and a playoff appearance in 2018.

Quinn takes the reins

Westwood had a 7-5 effort and reached the second round in the 4A playoffs in 2018 under Dustin Curtis. Curtis took over the football program at A.C. Flora, leaving the way open for Quinn, who was the Redhawks offensive coordinator in 2016, to return.

Quinn left to take the head coaching position at Union Pines High School in Cameron, N.C., where he was 11-11 in two seasons. Now he’s back to coach a Redhawks team that reached the second round of the 4A playoffs in back-to-back years.

 “When I came here in 2016, I fell in love with the town, fell in love with the school, and I was really excited about coming back,” Quinn said. “At the end of last season, I actually called Dustin Curtis and asked him if he was looking for an offensive coordinator because I wanted to come back. Crazy how things happened.”

Both Quinn and Seidel listed success points over the offseason, from workouts and staying healthy to winning 7-on-7 offensive skill tournaments (“7-on-7 is like basketball on grass. It’s not real football,” Quinn said), and offensive and defensive line challenges in camps across the state.

Academic Priority

Both coaches also praised the team’s success in academics, from the Bengals reaching a 3.0 GPA as a team to the Redhawks working with Quinn’s analogy that academics, with spirituality, service and athletics are wheels for the individual vehicle to ride on.

Seidel noted how well the Bengals responded to intensity and adversity in practices and in camps over the summer. He said the biggest challenge for his deep roster will be experience.

“We’re excited where we’re at, but we’re young, and when you’re young you don’t know what you have,” Seidel said. “One day you come into practice and say ‘we can beat anybody.’ And the next day you go ‘I don’t know what we got.”

Brilliant Quarterback

What Blythewood does have is a brilliant quarterback with a rocket arm. Quarterback Josh Strickland transferred from Gilbert High School after leading the Indians to a 7-4 record and a playoff appearance.

“The best part about him is he’s a 5.0 GPA, a 31 ACT,” Seidel said “He wants to be a heart surgeon, wants to go to Yale, Columbia, Harvard. The fact that he has an arm and can sling it, he might have an opportunity to put himself in a good situation.”

Strickland came in at the bottom of the depth chart and rose up into the starting position.

College Offers

While some receivers graduated, junior Joshua Burrell leads the pack. At 6-2, 215 pounds, Burrell has the height and speed enough to garner 20 college offers.  His twin brother, Jordan, is being looked at and offered as well.

Seidel noted the lack of experience on the defensive line, which graduated all of its starters. Stopping the run will be the biggest question mark of a team that Seidel said has four and five athletes competing for a starting role in every position.

Among Westwood returners are receiver Christian Horn, who committed to Appalachian State two weeks ago and has 10-15 offers in addition. Quarterback Ahmon Green committed to Georgia State as a tight end but will be under center as a Redhawk for one more year. Deshawn Boyd and Cam Atkins return as running backs, with Atkins also playing receiver, slot, safety, outside linebacker, and handling the kicking duties. Linebacker C.J. Johnson, free safety Reggie Harry and defensive lineman Matt Brown also return to anchor an experienced defense.

“These guys are all seniors and it’s so cool to see them now,” Quinn said. “When I was here in 2016 these guys were freshmen, and some of those guys I didn’t recognize because of how much weight they gained and how much muscle they put on.”

Making Great Strides

Quinn was pleased with how the team hit the weight room and noted that 34 players made every one of 21 workouts, and 72 players made 17 of them. Along with the passing camps and line challenges around the summer, the Redhawks made great strides, he said.

“We’re really excited about the offseason and the way we progressed,” Quinn said. “The most important thing is that while we were at Clover I had two volunteer officials come up to me and said, ‘your guys, your team has fun. They’re doing it the right way.’ I shared that with our team because those things meant more to me than winning that 7-on-7 in Clover.”

The Games Begin

Wetwood opens its season at Lugoff-Elgin on Aug. 23, while Blythewood opens the season Aug. 23 with a home game against Ridge View.

“Our kids are getting ready for back-to-back rivalry games, and that’s great, because it’s only gonna help us for region,” Siedel said. “Every game is a dog fight and we like that because every game is gonna help us in the playoffs.”

The Rivalry

Aug. 30 is circled on both Blythewood’s and Westwood’s calendars: the Bengals travel the four miles down Wilson Boulevard to take on the Redhawks.

Quinn knows it’s a fun game, or at least a game to look forward to. But in the grand scheme of a 4A team’s season and a 5A team’s season, it’s just a game.

 “I hope that we bring two state championships back to Blythewood. I hope we get one in 4A and they get one in 5A, and we all celebrate together,” Quinn said. Both teams “can win a region championship without it. It’s gonna be fun, there’ll be a lot of people there, but at the end of the day it’s not gonna deter either one of us from our goals.

“I wish nothing but the best for Blythewood and like I said, state championship on both sides, and we’ll come back and compare rings.”