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Peaking in December
HEAD COACH MIKE PALMIERI
MALLARD CREEK (NC) HIGH SCHOOL
JULY IS NOT THE MONTH MALLARD Creek coach Mike Palmieri wants his foot- ball team to peak. He prefers December. And, last season, Palmieri’s Mavericks
In 2013, Mallard Creek capped an unbeaten
season with a playoff run that saw the Mavs win
five games by an average of 37. 4 points. In the
Class 4AA state championship game, the Mavs
pummeled Wake Forest 59-21 to finish 16-0
and ranked sixth in the nation by USA Today.
They averaged 51 points, outscoring opponents
by 40. 1 points per game.
Not bad for a team that lost its starting senior
quarterback midway through the season. Quarterback Emiere Scaife broke his ankle on the third
play of a Week 5 game against West Charlotte, a
team the Mavs would go on to defeat 59-0.
Recent seasons also had been marred by injuries to key players, but there was no “here we
go again” mentality. Instead, no one panicked.
No one thought the season was lost. Coaches
coached just a little harder. Players practiced a
little harder and with a little more focus.
“Everyone felt bad for Emiere,” said Palmieri,
“but we didn’t put our heads down. Everyone
just picked it up, lifted a little more of the load.”
Palmieri moved sophomore corner James
Smith to quarterback, adjusted to a more run-
heavy scheme and trusted his defense and
special teams to take over games while the
offense adapted to its new signal-caller.
Now, seven months later, Palmieri is wrapping up an offseason that was spent identifying
new leaders to help replace
the 38 seniors who graduated off of last year’s championship team. His base 4-3
defense will feature next-level corners Nafees Lyons
and Amarie Henderson and
big-time middle linebacker
Tyheim Bremby. After being
named offensive MVP of the
championship game, Smith
returns at quarterback as a
more polished passer under
the tutelage of offensive
coordinator Joe Cox, a former University of Georgia
The defending champions
opened practice Aug. 1 and
expectations remain high.
“We want to compete for
a state championship,” said
Palmieri. “Those are our expectations.”
In the meantime, he’s focused on keeping his
team healthy and fresh.
“Sometimes it’s hard to as a coach, but you
My First Practice
really have to pace yourself,” he said. “You don’t
want to wear guys down in the offseason. You
don’t want to peak too early.”
That comes in December.
HEAD COACH JOHN MCKISSICK
SUMMERVILLE (SC) HIGH SCHOOL
OLD HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL TALES ARE GREAT AND JOHN MCKISSICK definitely has a bunch of them. In 1952, McKissick had just been named head coach at Summerville High School, a South Carolina powerhouse that won consecutive state championships in 1949 and ’ 50. He called his former
coach, Lonnie McMillan of Presbyterian College, to tell him the news and ask for a favor.
“I said, ‘Coach, how about helping me a little bit with practice?’” McKissick recalled.
“He said, ‘You don’t know how to practice.’”
McKissick laughed off his coach’s snide remark and met with him to map out a plan.
Days later, McKissick arrived at the little practice field behind the Summerville stadium
that is now named after him for his first practice as a head coach. He had 32 players, all
in full pads, and no assistant coaches.
“That first practice, I looked out there and saw we had this big-ole kid. I said, ‘Man, that’s
a big-ole guy.’ I look back at it now and he was 6-foot- 2, 190 pounds. He was an offensive
and defensive tackle,” said McKissick, who turns 88 in September. “There’s a lot of teach-
ing that goes on in the first practice. But, first of all, you have to let the kids know they’re
out there to have fun.”
Sixty-two years, 613 wins and 10 state championships later, it’s pretty clear McKis-
sick knows how to practice. But things have definitely changed.
McKissick remembers practices being more fun for the kids in those days. Most of
his players were from area farms and loved to get away from their field work to come
to practice. No one ever missed a practice. Parents would complain to the venerable
coach, “You’re ruining me, coach.”
His first practice lasted two-and-a-half hours. He coached the offense, defense and
special teams on his own. The practice opened with calisthenics and included a punting
drill and a full-speed, one-on-one tackling drill.
“Back then, you were looking for the ones that would stick their heads in the briar
patch,” McKissick said. “You wanted the kids who wouldn’t turn their heads when they
hit. We’d never do that stuff these days.”
High school football’s all-time winningest coach, McKissick is looking forward to his
“I’ve always enjoyed getting up and going to work, looked forward to it; never dreaded
going to work one day of my life,” McKissick concluded.
By DaviD PurDum