Chris Hamilton saw flashes of how good his South Aiken football team can be during the second half last Friday at Strom Thurmond.
He saw the T-Breds execute. He saw them fight. He saw them eliminate their mistakes, and he saw them play a composed half of football against a stout opponent.
So when he addressed them following a 42-27 loss in which they couldn't climb all the way back from a 28-7 halftime deficit, he told them he hoped they saw those same things he saw.
He still believes in this group despite an 0-3 start, and he still thinks they can be as good as he's advertised. And his excitement about them hasn't waned at all heading into Friday's Aiken Standard Game of the Week against Lexington.
"I still believe this group's gonna be really good, and I think if they can pull it all together they're gonna be a really good group that we're gonna talk about," said Hamilton, whose team will be playing its home opener after three straight road games to open the season. "I believe that right now, and I think they showed a flash of that Friday night in the second half. And I'll say this – they've got a lot of grit, and they've got a lot of guts.
"Now, the bad thing is they don't have to put themselves in that situation. They play a better first half, and they don't have to pull themselves out of a 28-7 hole. But I still love this team. I still love these guys, and I think they can still do something very special."
The 0-3 start is foreign territory for Hamilton, but in no way does that mean it's time to panic. His players haven't given him any reason they won't continue to get better, and they've shown at times they can live up to the foundation he's built. The principles in place have built winners at South Aiken, so they're going to work on doing them better.
"Here's the thing. I can't go, 'Oh, we're 0-3, I've got to change up everything I do.' Good coaches don't do that, and good programs don't do that," he said. "We're a good program. You don't go and make wholesale – you do the things you believe in, and you get better at that. We're going to keep doing that."
One big plus from the Strom Thurmond game was improved play by an inexperienced offensive line. The T-Breds ran the football better than they have this season – they're still not where they want to be, but it was progress against a good, physical defense.
Eliminating mistakes will be important against what Hamilton said was a typical Lexington team – well-coached, big up front and with athleticism everywhere. He counted nine mental mistakes in base offensive schemes – not new, matchup-specific principles – that took away potential scoring opportunities against Strom Thurmond. He counted none in the second half, so now they're in the process of figuring out how they can fix those mental lapses.
Hamilton still has tons of trust in the defense, despite a couple of rough outings recently. He sat down with defensive coordinator Kevin McKiver to go over some adjustments, and he thinks they've figured out how to put guys in better position to make plays. This week they'll see a Lexington offense that looks a lot like South Aiken's, and they'll have to contend with a big, physical offensive line.
Establishing the run will be especially important this week against a Lexington defense that doesn't give up the big play. The T-Breds will have to be physical and sustain drives against a Wildcats team that gave up six points combined in their first two games before allowing 31 last week to a red-hot Gilbert offense.
The recipe for victory is there for South Aiken – the T-Breds went up to Lexington last year with a 1-2 record and came away with a 16-7 win. This year they'll try to do a lot of the same things, and most importantly they'll try to limit their mistakes.
If they can do that, and play a complete game instead of flashes of what they can be, the T-Breds will make their home crowd happy after a long wait to have them back at the Stomping Grounds.
"I've never been so glad to be coming to the home stadium," Hamilton said. "We're gonna open up the scoreboard and have the new jumbotron going and all that cool stuff – there's going to be some really neat things on that. ... We're excited about that.
"The environment and the atmosphere was already pretty good there, and some might say it's probably one of the best, at least in Aiken County. So we're happy to be home. Hopefully we'll put on a show for our home crowd, get everybody back excited and get this thing on the right track."