DUE WEST, S.C. (WSPA) – For the first time since 1951, football makes its return to Erskine College.
After a near seven-decade hiatus, Erskine relaunched the program complete with a new weight room, equipment, and everything in between. The process got off the ground in the fall of 2018 when the college hired Shap Boyd to be its head coach. Boyd came to the private Christian college after serving as the defensive coordinator for the University of Virginia at Wise.
Upon his arrival in Due West, Boyd started off with just a few assistants and they began recruiting immediately. The staff is now made of up seven coaches in total. They’ve been building the foundation for the program since, as they get ready for competition.
“I kind of always envisioned being a head coach in a small school in the south,” said Boyd, who played for the University of the South in the mid-80’s. “It’s kind of what I did when I was a player, so I was kind of always hoping that was going to be case.”
Redshirt freshman receiver Kevon Catoe was a part of the first recruiting class. He said starting a brand new culture inspired a lot of enthusiasm among the players. .
“A lot of other programs it’s like you’re picking up where someone else left off. But in this case we’re setting our own foundation,” said Catoe.
The Flying Fleet are one of just three Division II football programs in the country to be fully independent. And although they had a redshirt, practice-only season in 2019, they’re confident that despite the uncertainty of a 2020 campaign they’ll be back on the gridiron for real very soon.
“We are still trying to piece together some form of, hopefully, a competition of some kind,” said Boyd. “We haven’t been told that’s not going to happen, yet. So there’s still alight a the end of the tunnel.”
With no conference affiliation Erskine will have to wait for a school to take them on as a scheduled opponent, and the possibility of moving to a spring season remains. If, and when, competition is set, the Flying Fleet are ready.
“Our biggest expectation is just going in there and playing our brand of football,” said redshirt freshman linebacker Stanley Jean-Baptist. “Just showing guys that Erskine is something to worry about…we’re going to go into there saying that we have nothing to lose. Because no one expects a first year program to just win every game. And going out there we can put anything and leave everything out there on the table.”
Erskine College has an enrollment of roughly 800 students, and in two years of development the football team now includes over 160 student-athletes. Until they’re given confirmation to play, Boyd says the priority is to focus on what they can control.
“We can control our attitude, we can control how we’re going to approach things, we can control how hard we’re going to work at things. A lot of those things don’t have anything to do with talent, and we’re asking our kids to take that same approach. We’re asking them when we come into the weight room to work, when we get out there on the field, to work. Were asking them to basically give us the best they can.”
“Last year we really weeded out the ones that didn’t want to be here and that were not really fit to play college football. And now we’re really with the guys..everyone’s buying in,” said Jean-Baptist.
“We’re in a position now where we have the people we know we can count on and that we’re willing to go to games with, war with, all that,” Catoe added.
Hard work is at the center of their philosophy. And although things are constantly changing in the current climate, that message remains the same.