By Joyce Erekson
It didn’t take former Lynner Brian Smith long to put C.E. Murray High School in Greeleyville, South Carolina on the football map.
The 1995 Classical High graduate, who played college football at The Citadel, took over as head coach three years ago. The school of about 500 students was known more for its basketball program than football, but Smith and his staff went a long way toward changing that perception. In his third year as head coach, Smith’s team finished 12-2 and won the 1A Lower State championship. The team lost in the state final.
“We had an amazing season, an amazing year. I enjoyed every bit of it,” Smith said. “There was no football tradition (at the school). It’s all brand new to them.”
Smith said this was the first time the team made it to the state tournament, won a Lower State title or won 12 games. The effort earned Smith 1A Coach of the Year by the South Carolina Football Association, Region 7 Coach of the Year and the Pee Dee Coach of the Year, which is awarded by the Florence Morning News (one of the larger daily newspapers in the state).
“It was magical,” Smith said about the season. “They community really got involved. It was a great sight to see. I can’t explain in words what it meant.”
Smith, a business education teacher at the high school, described Greeleyville as a low income community with an average income of about $17,000. It’s located an hour or so away from The Citadel and is 100 percent African American. Prior to coaching at C.E. Murray High School, Smith worked as an assistant coach at Manning High, which is in a neighboring town, for six years. He also coached two years at the Citadel and was an assistant with the Classical High football program for a couple of years under coach Matt Durgin.
During his playing days at Classical, Smith was a tight end and linebacker. Dave Dempsey was the head coach at the time. Smith moved to fullback and linebacker as a post graduate student at Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia and when he played at The Citadel, he was a linebacker. He graduated in 2001.
Smith said his experience growing up in Lynn helped prepare him for coaching at C.E. Murray.
“I was use to a diverse population. I know how to deal with different people from different backgrounds. The toughness Lynn instills in you makes you work hard,” he said.
Smith said when he was deciding to take the Murray job, a lot of people told him not to take it, that he couldn’t win at the school. He set out to prove them wrong.
“It says a lot about your character when you do something people say couldn’t be done. A lot of that has to do with my upbringing in Lynn,” he said.
Smith is now married. He and his wife, Lucy, who he met in South Carolina, have a 6-year-old son, John Wilder Smith.
Smith said football in the south is different from up north.
“Football is 365 days down here. We don’t really have an off-season,” he said, describing how the curriculum is structured in a way that is sports friendly. This year’s team, he said, had eight or nine seniors, a lot of juniors and, the good news, a big freshman class.
“We ran the ball about 80 percent of the time. That’s what we hung our hats on,” he said.
Smith’s team started the season by going 5-0 in five non-conference games, but then had to take a break when the area was whacked by severe flooding. School was closed for two weeks. Murray came back to go 4-1 in conference play to finish the regular season at 9-1. The team’s 12-2 record was the best in the state despite not winning the state championship, he said.