November 1, 2019. That was the last time the Eau Claire Shamrocks won a game, a 20-16 victory over the Columbia Capitals.
As second-year head coach Shaq Hilton prepares his squad for the 2022 season, he knows one goal has to be breaking the 24-game losing streak.
Hilton admits last season had a big learning curve starting with the offseason when he was commuting back-and-forth from Charleston during spring practice.
This year, Hilton feels better about the state of his program with a good parameter for what he wants the team to be.
It also helps that nine players return on each side of the ball.
“It is critical to have all the returning players,” Hilton said. “Last year we had to do a lot of teaching. This year, we were able to cut down on the teaching time. We’ve seen a culture shift.”
If nothing else, the offense will have playmakers with speed.
Josh Sims is expected to start at quarterback. He doesn’t have any experience at quarterback; no one on the roster has game experience at the position. However, he fit the mold of what the coaching staff was looking for: a leader, an athlete, and a smart football player. Sims has had to work on his throwing during the offseason, but as a 4.2, 40-yard dash track athlete, he will definitely add speed to the position.
One player he has a good connection with is wide receiver Rickie Murray, who is dynamic with the ball in his hands and runs an 11.3, 100-meter. He will also be a weapon in the return game.
Sims and Murray will also look to lead the defense. Sims is an eraser as an over the top safety; Murray lines up at cornerback.
Lamar Eddy and Gary Gownes will serve as a one-two punch in the running game.
Saqohn Canzater is raw as a defensive end/linebacker but is a physical player. Troy Henry is another quality player on the Eau Claire defense.
Hilton believes the athleticism at the skill positions is the strength of his team. He would like to see improvement along the offensive line, where six players transferred out since last season.
The nine-game schedule includes games against Hunter-Kinard-Tyler, Pelion, and Whitmire in the nonregion. The region will once again be challenging with games against defending 2A State Champion Gray Collegiate,
Newberry, Keenan, Columbia, Mid-Carolina, and Fairfield Central.
In a large region, the opportunity for a postseason berth shrinks. However, Hilton believes the nonregion schedule will challenge his team and help it be more competitive in region play.
His expectations for the Shamrocks are to finish around .500 and contend for the playoffs.
The key to making that happen, according to Hilton, will be to have a great summer, which includes working out in the weight room and coming together as a team.