Phil Strickland may be most known for his exploits at Gaffney High School, but long before he was wining championships anywhere else around the state he was building winners both on and off the field at Ridge Spring-Monetta. Strickland's first football head coaching job was with the Trojans.
Now the venerable high school football coach will join the elite as a member of the South Carolina Football Coaches Hall of Fame.
Strickland was part of an eight-member class that included Blackville-Hilda’s David Berry, Johnsonville’s Lewis Lineberger, Dillon’s Jackie Hayes, former Lake View coach Jewell McLaurin, Bennie McMurray and Jim Ringer.
Strickland has won 310 games in his three-plus decades as a coach. Strickland made stops at Brookland-Cayce, Batesburg-Leesville and Gaffney. He is currently the coach at Newberry.
Strickland made an immediate impact in Monetta in his return to Aiken County — he had previously coached the South Aiken girls' basketball team to a state championship. He led the Trojans to an 8-4 record and an opening-round playoff victory against Porter-Gaud.
More importantly, he instilled an attitude in the team that led to them believing they could win. The Trojans were 34-14 in the four seasons under Strickland. He left a lasting impression on everyone who came through the program.
"He was more focused in on team effort and working together to accomplish a common goal," former running back Mark Ligons said. "He really unified everyone in the community and got us to play together."
Strickland won five state championships as a coach and was a state runner-up five more times. He is in three other halls of fame. He coached five players who reached the NFL, and he also coached some future coaches including Wardlaw head coach Mark Rodgers, a former Ridge Spring-Monetta player and head coach.
Rodgers was a senior when Strickland took over the program and always remembered Strickland as a winner. He also learned a valuable lesson from Strickland.
"He was successful," Rodgers said. "He always kept us focused on the task at hand. He never looked down the road. He looked to Friday. That's how you win."