Kirkland part of S.C. win

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Offensive line play key for Sandlappers

By Robert Howey

SPARTANBURG – The mere thought of Lancaster High School senior offensive lineman William Kirkland celebrating a South Carolina 24-16 comeback win in the Shrine Bowl at Wofford’s Gibbs Stadium on Saturday afternoon was inconceivable a week prior.

Chances of that scene happening at the 72nd annual Carolinas charity high school all-star game seemed just as dim at halftime with the North Carolina stars holding a 16-3 edge on the S.C. stars.

But, as Kirkland can attest, positive change can come quickly.

Kirkland, an injury replacement for the Shrine Bowl last Monday night following a first-day practice injury to Dorman High School’s Malcolm Boyd, made the most of his chance and helped the Sandlappers to the stunning comeback win.

South Carolina trailed the N.C. stars by 13 at the half, and it appeared the Tar Heels’ stars were on their way to an easy victory.

“We came in at halftime and settled down,” Kirkland said. “We had been hurting ourselves with turnovers. We calmed down and started playing ball.”

Kirkland, with his late addition to the S.C. squad early last week, saw limited playing time in the first half, but saw more action in the second half.

Kirkland was in the game on a key play when South Pointe ace quarterback Stephon Gilmore, who earned the S.C.’s Most Outstanding Offensive Player Award, sparked the Sandlappers’ 21-point rally with a 47-yard run to jump start the Sandlappers’ charge on their first touchdown of the pivotal second half.

“Gilmore’s run was a highlight for me because I was the lead blocker on the play,” Kirkland said. “Who thought I’d ever be blocking for Gilmore?”

Given the chance to perform, Kirkland showed his ability.

“I have been waiting for this for four years,” he said. “I had one game to prove myself. I thought I did well.”

LHS coach Bennie McMurray said he was proud of Kirkland’s effort.

“William was in there for some critical runs and the play of South Carolina’s offensive line was crucial because they cranked up their running game in the second half and when you’re successful in the running game, it goes back to the offensive line play,” McMurray said. “He did a heck of a job.”

Sandlappers’ offensive line coach Steve Hart of Andrews said Kirkland’s attitude made a difference.

“William came in and worked hard from the start after he joined us on Tuesday morning,” Hart said. “He had a lot to learn in a hurry. It’s tough when everybody’s a little ahead of you, but it says a lot about the young man and his desire. He had a good game and I’m proud of him.”

Lancaster native Keith Crolley, a Sandlappers assistant out of Crestwood High School in Sumter, said Kirkland showed “good character.”

“He came in here like it was his hometown,” Crolley said. “He fit in with the other players and played hard, but that’s what we expected. We heard he was a good player and he came in from a good program and proved himself. He picked up on what we were trying to do and mixed in.”

Kirkland said he treated the situation like a Lancaster High School practice.

“It was like a work day at Lancaster High School and I just gave all I had,” he said. “I feel good and it was exciting at the end when we were celebrating on the field. I felt I held my own.”

The game capped Kirkland’s career on a high note.

“This was a great way to finish your high school career,” McMurray said. “When you can go in there and play with the state’s elite and win the Shrine Bowl and prove you’re the best in two states, that’s about as good as it gets.”

Crolley said the game, with its game proceeds going to help burned and cripple children in Shrine Hospitals, is a highlight of his 24-year coaching career.

“We had a real good time,” Crolley said. “This is the opportunity of a lifetime. It’s a fun experience.”