Don Frost hates that his computer crashed because he lost that email. Must have been two or three screens long. And so unexpected.
It was 2008, the first year he was coaching at Christ Church. Frost came to his office the Saturday after a game and turned on his computer. He was greeted by an email from a guy he had coached at Mauldin in 1981, a former player who just wanted to keep his old coach updated on his journey.
“I know it starts at home, but that means that somewhere down the line, I had a small part in his life,” Frost said.
Tonight, Christ Church, which has won three consecutive Class A state championships, travels to Bishopville to play Lee Central, a competitive Class AA program. It’s one of the games on a relatively light Week 0 schedule, one week ahead of the first full Friday’s worth of high school football games in the state.
SEASON OPENS TONIGHT:
Christ Church also has won 40 consecutive games, one shy of the state record established by Summerville from 1978 through 1980.
The streak is impressive, as are the championships, which come with lavish rings. None of these can ever be taken away from the players and coaches who have been a part of them.
But neither can a computer crash take away a message that trumps them all where Frost is concerned.
“I wouldn’t swap that email for anything in this world,” he said.
Getting a read on it
Frost was hired as a varsity head football coach for the first time in 2002, taking over the program at Riverside.
He was anything but an instant success — 1-9 the first season, then 2-8, then 1-9 again.
“I came in after that (second) 1-9 season and said to my wife, ‘I can go sell cars. This is killing me,’ ” Frost said. “She looked at me and said, ‘So you’re going to tell your kids to quit?’ It was like somebody hit me with a cold towel on my face. I looked at her and I said, ‘Point well taken.’ “
He went upstairs, prayed and pulled out a book: “Season of Life” by Jeffrey Marx. Furman assistant head coach Tim Sorrells had given a copy of the book to Don’s brother, Larry, then the head coach at Greenville and now the offensive coordinator at Christ Church. Larry, in turn, had given a copy to Don for Christmas.
“I’m not a big reader, but I sat down and read it,” Don said.
The book is more about relationships than victories, and Don took it to heart.
“We went in and told those kids, ‘Your job is to love each other as brothers. Our job is to love you just like our own kids and treat you just like our own kids.’ Those seniors bought in,” Frost said.
“That team set the tone for what happened after that. It was just amazing the transformation on that team.”
That Riverside team went 5-5. The next year, the Warriors went 8-5, and in 2007, they went 9-3 and earned a share of the Peach Blossom AAA Region title.
The next year, the Frosts came to Christ Church. Don had one year remaining before he could retire from public education, and he bought out the year. Larry already had retired and had been working on year-to-year contracts. Don also had been serving as athletic director at Riverside.
“Being athletic director and head football coach will take its toll on anybody,” Don said. “This door opened and kind of rejuvenated me and Larry both.”
Upon their arrival at Christ Church, the Frosts picked up where they left off at Riverside.
Most important, they established and encouraged relationships.
“If you play for somebody else,” Don Frost said, “you’ll play harder because you don’t want to let them down. That’s the beauty of the philosophy we go by.”
Senior defensive lineman Thad Mangum had been a student at the school but had not been a part of the football program until last year.
“Most of the guys, they’ve been here since they were little kids, so they’re brothers,” Mangum said, “and they just accepted me, and I feel like one of their brothers also.”
Frost said the 6-foot-2, 279-pound Mangum has 13 scholarship offers, and Auburn is extremely interested in 6-4, 185-pound junior wideout Braxton Westfield. The Cavaliers continue to produce more and more prospects.
However, the program also has thrived on intangibles.
“Our students take the discipline they have in the classrooms and they bring it out on to the football field,” Don Frost said. “And they’re very smart. And when you combine discipline with intelligence, you can do a lot of amazing things.
“We’ve probably been outmanned in every state championship game we’ve played. But the kids have a will to win, and the coaches have instilled a will to win, and we keep pushing the right buttons and it just happens.”
In the Class A Division I championship game in 2012, Christ Church trailed Johnsonville by eight points with four minutes remaining.
“The kids were behind me saying, ‘We’ve got a chance. All we’ve got to do is score and go for two,’ ” Frost said. “We hadn’t been moving the ball, but we did. We scored and went for two and got it. It’s a will to win.”
Don Frost said one of the keys to his team’s success on the field at Riverside came after he had a conversation with former Easley coach Donnie Woolsey, who stressed the importance of a two-platoon system.
“In the two-platoon, we’re playing with lesser athletes at different positions,” Frost said. “But those lesser athletes are getting more reps now and getting better.
“And kids will play to your expectations. We won two state championships with a 5-6, 172-pound defensive tackle.”
Against Johnsonville, that tackle, Preston Hall, played opposite a Johnsonville lineman who was 6-8, 309 pounds.
“We’ve got a picture of it,” Frost said, rising to describe the scene. “He’s standing here, and Preston is standing here. But he did exactly what we told him. He attacked from the knee down, and that guy never could do anything with him, because he was so quick underneath him.
“How many teams would do that? Not a lot? And I’m one of them that didn’t, because when I first got to Riverside, I was taking my biggest guys and best athletes and putting them on the field. You go back and look, and in probably 85 percent of our games the first three years, we were leading going into the fourth quarter, but we lost because they were so tired.”
Measuring the streak
After winning its opener at home against Travelers Rest in 2011, Christ Church went on the road the next week.
“Liberty played a very good game,” Frost said. “They were fired up. We had a lot of injuries. Our starting quarterback was out. We lost six kids to injuries in that game, and we just couldn’t pull it out.
“After the game, I said, ‘Look, I’m proud of the effort that you gave. Now we can do one of two things: We can either fold up the tent, or we can get better.’ And we got better.”
The Cavaliers haven’t lost since.
With a win tonight, Christ Church would tie Summerville’s state record of 41 consecutive wins. The Cavaliers would then have a chance to beat the Green Wave’s record a week from tonight with a victory at home against Abbeville.
But Don Frost and his staff have their players thinking along these lines:
What’s at the end of the rainbow?
“Win the last game that we play,” said Mangum, as if on queue.
“It’s not about the streak,” said senior quarterback Andrew Slade, who’s drawing attention from Ivy League schools, Colgate and Bucknell and bench presses 305 pounds. “We’re taking it one game at a time. We’re being as humble as we can and not trying to look too far ahead.”
Slade and his teammates are playing for each other and for all of those who helped to build the streak.
“It’s really easy to look ahead on the schedule and see Abbeville and know that that’s a huge game for us, and not only us but a lot of the other players who have come through here,” Slade said. “It means a lot for us to carry through with the streak that they started.”
So it matters, just not as much as winning the last game they play.
And not even that matters as much to Don Frost as a surprise update, just a little something 27 years later to let you know a former player is still thinking about you.
“It’s about the quality of the kid that comes out of the program,” he said, “more than the state championship, more than the streak or anything else.”
That’s why he’s quick to point out the real season lasts a little longer than a few months.