There's been a lot of football played in Barnwell over the past four decades. Current defensive backs coach Mike Highsmith has been an integral part of it all.

Highsmith joined the the Warhorses' football program in 1977, following in the footsteps of his older brothers. The Highsmith name itself carries a lot of tradition when it comes to Barnwell football. Mike's older brother, Tunzy, played quarterback for the Warhorses before Mike did. Highsmith's other brothers, James and George, also played for Barnwell.

Add that to the fact that Highsmith went on to coach for the Warhorses starting in 1985 after his time as a collegiate athlete at Baptist College — currently Charleston Southern — and Highsmith has been a part of Warhorse tradition for 36 years.

So it's safe to say that Highsmith knows Barnwell football, and he recently took some time to reflect on the football program that's been such a big part of his life.

“I just love this town, and I just love this school,” Highsmith said. “I've seen so much great football over the years.”

Highsmith has been a part of two state championship winning coaching staffs, and he's been an assistant for five Lower State championships. He was recently selected as one of the coaches for this year's Touchstone Energy Cooperative North-South game.

So it's also safe to say the other thing Highsmith knows is good coaching when he sees it. He was there for the infancy of legendary coach Mac Wier's tenure. And he has witnessed Dwayne Garrick return the Warhorses to the high standard they became accustomed to.

Prior to last Friday's loss, the Warhorses were within two wins of the first undefeated regular season record since 1998. That was the last season Wier led the Warhorses.

It would've been kind of fitting considering Wier and current head coach Garrick have been the most successful coaches at Barnwell in the modern South Carolina High School League era. Highsmith said he's seen some similarities in each of the coaches.

“They're both hard workers,” Highsmith said. “They're also going to get the best out of a kid. I'm talking great personalities, and they both know how to help a kid reach their potential.”

The Wier era coincided with the glory days of Barnwell football. Barnwell won back-to-back state championships in 1987 and 1988 under Wier. The Warhorses also appeared in the state championship game four other times during Wier's 20 years as the head coach.

Wier didn't lose more than three games in any of his final 15 seasons.

“He was a great mentor,” Highsmith said. “I couldn't think of a better place to work.”

Garrick also knows a thing or two about success in Barnwell. He's had two tenures as the head coach of the Warhorses and each has been marked by winning. Garrick has a 54-18 overall record to date. He's also made two appearances in the state semifinals, including last season against Batesburg-Leesville.

Highsmith has liked what he's seen from the Warhorses the past few seasons. He feels as though the team has returned to the gritty nature that made it great during the glory days.

“The toughness is back and the Warhorse tradition is back,” Highsmith said. “I can see it in these kids over the last two years. It's just the desire and them knowing that when practice is over on Thursday they have the confidence that they're going to when that game on Friday night because of how hard they worked and how they prepared Monday through Thursday.”

As for his favorite moments, Highsmith has quite a few, but the 1988 championship stands out. The Warhorses beat Central both times they claimed the crown. The second one wasn't as easy, but it provided one of of the more memorable plays for Highsmith.

Free safety Willie Creech intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown to provide the only score of the game.

“I was coaching the secondary, so that made me feel like I was doing something,” Highsmith said with a laugh. “We just had some skilled guys. We had a very good nucleus and everybody just fed off of it.”

To sum it up, Highsmith just said he feels like Barnwell is where he always belonged.

“It's like a big family to me. I just want to thank my wife Janine Highsmith for her putting up with me coaching for all these years and the hours I've put in at this school,” Highsmith said. “This whole community has been wonderful to me. It's just a great place to live and a great place to coach. I don't think I would feel comfortable coaching anywhere else.”

​Eric Russell is the sports editor at the Aiken Standard. Contact him at 803-644-2396.