The Easley High football team started gathering just after 11 p.m. Thursday night for its third annual midnight madness event, eager to snatch up what coach Chad Smith and staff had to offer.
This was no black Friday sale, though.
This was something much more exciting for high school football coaches, players and fans.
Near midnight, as the Green Wave players quietly lined up in rows, Smith stood before them looking intently at his watch. When the clock struck 12:01 a.m. Friday, Smith blew his whistle. His players boisterously jogged toward him, while parents seated along the sideline began snapping photos.
The 2012 football season was under way.
“It’s very exciting to get out here early, bonding and trying to improve as one,” senior running back/defensive back Troy McGowens said just before practice.
When Smith became the coach two years ago, he inherited a program that had won once in two seasons.
Knowing he had to shake things up, Smith began with the earliest change allowed by South Carolina High School League regulations. After beginning the season at 12:01 a.m. on the first day of practice, the Green Wave wrapped up that first year with a 9-4 record.
They followed that with an 11-2 mark last season, during which they scored a school-record 435 points.
For Smith, the midnight practice is a clear case of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
If we went 1-10 that first year, we probably wouldn’t be back out here tonight,” Smith said with a smile. “The kids have bought into it. We pride ourselves on hard work.
“We are the first team in South Carolina to practice by doing this. Whether it gives you an edge or not, I don’t know. But in their (players) minds it does, so it’s worth doing.”
While Easley’s stadium and practice fields at the new high school weren’t ready for use, the excitement level wasn’t diminished at the Easley Recreation Department’s Pope Field.
“With the new field not being ready yet,” said Bob Root, father of senior lineman Bobby Root, “all that does is give us another thing to look forward to.”
Bob and his wife, Valerie, have attended all three midnight practices. Despite weariness after being up all day, he says attending has been worth it.
“It gets everybody excited in the community,” said Root. “You usually don’t see a lot of people come to practices like this. It helps build morale.”
After being up since 6 a.m. Thursday, Cathy McIntosh took Friday off and attended the first practice for her son Cannon, a freshman.
“The boys are really pumped up,” McIntosh said. “They’ve been counting down the hours to midnight on Facebook.”
And for McGowens, in his fourth year as a varsity starter, there would be no counting down the hour-and-a-half until practice was over.
“It doesn’t matter to me,” McGowens said. “When the sun comes up, I could still be out here.”