White Knoll is ready to see football rebuild come to fruition

Posted 9/29/23

Before he got to White Knoll, the school’s head football coach did a lot of winning.

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White Knoll is ready to see football rebuild come to fruition


Before he got to White Knoll, the school’s head football coach did a lot of winning.

Nick Pelham was previously the defensive coordinator under legendary Dutch Fork coach Tom Knotts from 2013 to 2020, a stretch that saw the Silver Foxes win six state titles.

At White Knoll, there hadn’t been a lot of winning recently, so Pelham was tasked with conducting a full-on rebuilding project. 

And now, in year three, progress is clearly being made.

The Timberwolves are rolling into region play at a perfect 5-0 and are ranked eighth in all of 5A.

Before Pelham took the job, White Knoll was a combined 15-22 and 3-15 in region play with no playoff wins in the previous four years. One of the first things Pelham wanted to address was the little things he believed the program was lacking.

“The first thing we had to change was the pride in our program and the pride in our school,” Pelham recalled. “There was just no pride in who we were and what we were going to be about so we worked really hard to make sure that we would wear matching things when we would lift. I think that was a big thing. I wanted to make sure we wore nice practice uniforms. I know that sounds like a small thing but we had to take pride in our school and take pride in being together.”

Pelham also wanted to focus on how his team performed in weight training and focus on turning that improvement into production on the field.

“It took awhile and that was a long process,” Pelham said. “Strength training isn’t done overnight but our kids figured out pretty soon that if they weren’t there, they were going to get a phone call and their parents are going to get a phone call saying, ‘Where ya at? Come on in.’ So I think our coaches that came on board with us and the coaches that were there that we kept really bought into the fact that we had to communicate with these kids and they got to understand the expectation that we’re going to work 365 days and this was going to be a three-year process to get this done.”

Pelham has used a lot of methods that were successful and has brought them to Dutch Fork. Sure, some White Knoll players have heard about the Dutch Fork ways to the point of exhaustion, but the method to the madness results in wins and even championships. The fundamentals are one thing that Pelham has tried to drill into his team, but the attention to detail is one thing he noticed that made players go from just good players to great high school players and eventual division one athletes.

“It’s something as simple as warming up, something as simple as stretching. Every once in a while, I’ll stop them and say that Antonio Williams, who is playing at Clemson right now, took warmups incredibly seriously. If it’s good enough for him to train his body to be fast, why is it not good enough for us? When did we become such great players that we can just slog through warmups and not take it seriously,” Pelham said. “I remind them of all the great players I coached over there and how seriously they took film study. I talk about Chandler Perry, who is a linebacker at Charleston Southern now, his film study was something that I’ve never seen from a young man. He watched more film than most of our coaches did and our kids need to be reminded that excellence doesn’t just show up. Excellence does not just happen. It takes work.”

The first two years on the field were certainly indicative of what a rebuilding program looks like and it took some time for the results of that added work to show. In 2021, they went 2-9 and lost eight of their first nine games.

Despite the tough first year, there was a silver lining: They pulled off a big win against River Bluff despite their 1-8 start to qualify for the playoffs and in the first round, during their eventual loss against a great Sumter team, the young White Knoll group gave them all they could handle and proved to some of the players that the added work and commitment can pay dividends in ways they never expected. 

“We somehow, some way, made enough plays to beat River Bluff that first year and got into the playoffs,” Pelham said. “We went and played at Sumter in the first round and Sumter was the number one seed, they were undefeated. They were on a roll and very well coached and had some college football players. But we were down 7-2 at halftime. I’m sure we were overlooked and Sumter was 100 times better than us and we were in the game at halftime. By beating a region team in River Bluff, making the playoffs and at least being competitive in the first half against Sumter, I think that kept a lot of kids around and I think that kept kids believing that [coaching staff] really do know what they’re talking about.”

That turning point carried over to the next season as they won seven games to secure the program’s first winning season since 2019 and second since 2016. They ultimately fell to T.L. Hanna in the first round of the playoffs in a close 36-35 match-up. 

This season, White Knoll has a chance to really bring the rebuilt to fruition. With over a dozen third-year starters who have played pivotal roles since Pelham first took the job, the team is talented and experienced enough to make a run at region contention.

So far, they have outscored their opponents 254-36 going into their region opener against River Bluff. The Timberwolves are also getting healthier, as wide receiver Austin Cunningham is set to return from an injury he sustained in a preseason scrimmage. That will give quarterback Landon Sharpe another high quality target to throw to alongside Hasan Lee, Evan Henderson and CJ Earl, who all have at least 250 yards receiving and three touchdowns this season.

Getting healthier right before region play is huge but according to Pelham, the team’s focus is at an all-time high and he’s more excited than ever to see how they take on the rest of the year, starting Sept. 29 against River Bluff.

“I’m really happy that we’re healthy, I’m really happy that our kids are paying attention to detail, I’m really happy how we’re paying attention in the film room and we understand how important that is,” Pelham said. “I’m very excited to see how we’re going to respond when we play teams that are as good as us and have players as talented as us and we’re gonna have to really execute, we’re gonna have to really do the details correctly. I can’t wait to see how our kids respond.”

White Knoll Football, Nick Pelham, Austin Cunningham, Landon Sharpe, Hasan Lee, CJ Earl, Evan Henderson


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