Thomas Sumter welcomes Clarendon Hall for 2023 opener


For the second year in a row, Thomas Sumter and Clarendon Hall will hit the gridiron to kick off the football season.

The Generals get hosting duties this year and are ready and raring to hit the field tonight.

"They're really excited. They've put a lot of work into this, and it's been a long offseason," TSA head coach Brannon Tidwell said. "They feel confident about where they are. We're young in spots but talented. It's a really tight-knit group, and they hang out a bunch. I think there's excitement around the team, around the school. There's a lot of work to get ready, especially with school starting Wednesday and playing Friday, so it's kinda been a crazy couple of days but exciting."

New Clarendon Hall head coach Todd Larrimer enjoyed the shift in focus this week as the Saints prepare for their first game that counts after weeks of scrimmages and jamborees.

"We're a little more focused," Larrimer said. "It's a little more team based as far as prep, as far as putting in strategy and game plan. It's not as much the fundamental work like it was for scrimmages and stuff like that. It's actually putting it all together."

Early season games can be hard to prepare for, so both teams are leaning heavily on their experience from last fall, when the Generals took home a 42-22 win.

"We kinda just base it off of last year," Larrimer said. "Our whole philosophy is we're going to worry about us. If we do what we need to do with our game plan and our system, we're going to be OK."

The Saints have a ton of carryover from last season, so Tidwell and company were ready to dive back into the film from a year ago.

"They're very similar to last year. They have a new head coach, but I'm sure a lot of the assistants are back and they're doing a lot of the same things," Tidwell said. "It was good to go back, and I'm sure they did the same thing. We had a good week of preparation, and I think the guys have a good understanding of what we're trying to do."

Clarendon Hall plans to lean on their experience, with key returners that include Darius Aiken at running back and safety, Brock Mathis at quarterback and linebacker, along with Kole Elliott and Wilder Robinson, who both serve as receivers and cornerbacks.

"We've got a couple of young guys in a few spots that might not be used to the bright lights yet, but that's definitely a comforting feeling as a coach when you have veterans all over the place," Larrimer said. "They can definitely take over in a leadership role."

But there are some people Larrimer wants to see step up in new roles.

"Ethan Timmons got one start last year; he's a great fundamental player," the Saints head coach and athletic director said. "He knows he's the starter there in that spot. I'm interested to see how he's going to respond."

Thomas Sumter, meanwhile, has a returning starting quarterback in Noah Steele-Allen that Tidwell is excited to see embrace the starting role from jumpstreet.

"He got better each Friday last year," Tidwell said. "He has the confidence, Erskine College has offered him (a scholarship), he's gained 30 pounds in the offseason, he's really tall at about 6'3", so he can see down the field and is athletic as well. We have the ultimate trust in Noah. He has to know exactly what everyone else is doing. I know he's up for that challenge."

On the other side of the ball, Thomas Sumter is young. They're almost entirely built around a sophomore class that got some good experience last year but still has some fresh faces.

"We're young on that side of the ball; we start an eighth-grader and seven 10th-graders on defense," Tidwell said. "It's a huge 10th-grade class, and a lot of them played a bunch of ball last year and ended up starting about half the year for us as ninth-graders. We don't have to do that anymore, thank goodness. They've got the experience, and they've got the confidence. We make it simple for them."

Both coaches stressed the skill of the opposing team's running back and quarterback as they prepared for the matchup.

"The biggest thing is to stop the run," Tidwell said. "Clarendon's got a really good team. They did some really good things against Williamsburg, who won the 2A championship last year, in their jamboree last week. They've got a veteran running back in (Aiken). Their quarterback (Mathis) started last year. They've got veteran guys at the right spots. It's going to be a challenge."

Larrimer is focused on the same positions.

"They've got a pretty solid running back. He looks decent on film," Larrimer said. "Their quarterback is a big lefty; he runs well. They do some different things with some pulls, some unorthodox things that you don't necessarily see, so I think that's what we're looking for on the offensive side of the ball.

"On defense, they're pretty aggressive, at least from what I've seen so far. It's all going to be about how we respond to their aggression."

On top of earning a win, Tidwell said the biggest thing he wants to take away from Friday night is improvement.

"Just getting better each week," the TSA head coach and athletic director said. "I like our line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. If we can get all 11 together just one play at a time, we have a chance to have a pretty good little football team this year."

Larrimer is focused on the details as they gear up for the Generals.

"I wanna see us execute what we've installed the past couple of months, the past couple of weeks," Larrimer said. "If we're just getting by on athleticism, we might not be able to move on schematically. I'm really looking to execute the system."