The Thomas Sumter Academy football program is under new management.
Randy Stogner resigned as the head coach earlier this year, leaving TSA searching for a new head coach. The school eventually landed on a coach that's new to Sumter, but not new to coaching in SCISA, in Brannon Tidwell.
"He embodies our Thomas Sumter culture, he has a love for his kids and he's just a good all-around guy," said Thomas Sumter athletic director Tanner Brunson of Tidwell. "Brannon has a long-tenured history of working at schools about Thomas Sumter's size and taking smaller programs to heights they've never seen before. He's a proven winner."
Tidwell comes to Thomas Sumter from St. Joseph's Academy in St. Augustine, Florida, where he served as both the athletic director and head football coach, winning a ton of games. Tidwell and the Flashes went 9-0 in 2018 and won the school's first FHSAA playoff game in the program's 92-year history in 2019, earning district, area and county coach of the year honors in the process.
One of his notable previous stops was at Cardinal Newman in Columbia. He coached there from 2012 to 2015 and helped rebuild their football program. The school had their first winning program since 1998 in 2013, which earned Tidwell SCISIA Region 1-3A Coach of the Year honors. He's looking forward to bringing his winning ways to Thomas Sumter.
"If you take yourself and say, 'Look, it's a small school,' you can put yourself in that box, but if you say you're going to do this like everyone else, we're going to develop, we're not going to take a day off," said Tidwell. "The kids that I have right now know that. There are some kids that aren't on the team, the roster is probably going to be really small, but I'm looking for commitment and work ethic. The kids that have bought in are all in.
"It's not about the numbers. I told them the other day that we can have 25 that are half in or we can have 12 that are all in. I would rather have 12 that are all in. I'm excited about the group. I've had success in the past with programs that were in similar situations, so I'm ready for this challenge as well."
Thomas Sumter was also a perfect fit for Tidwell because he has family roots in South Carolina. His wife, Lindsay, is from Bowman, and the Tidwells have split time with her family there and in Florida as its sorts through moving during the coronavirus pandemic. He's excited about being closer to family.
"Our family is here. I'm actually at my in-laws here in Bowman right now and my wife grew up in the state," said Tidwell. "We have two young kids, Carter and Ann Frances, who will be in kindergarten and first grade next year, and it was just a deal where I can get them in a school with me and it will be a family atmosphere and Thomas Sumter has such a great history and tradition. The biggest reason for my wife and I was being around family."
That family feel is also what made Thomas Sumter so inviting. Tidwell is excited to come to a smaller school, much like the one he is leaving behind in Florida, and come to TSA where he can get to know everyone at the school and build relationships.
"I've been in all different types of schools, from colleges to public schools and private. I knew about Thomas Sumter. We played against them at Cardinal Newman. The biggest thing for me is the size that the school is for those personal relationships," said Tidwell. "I've been at schools where there's 3,000 kids and you're a number. My wife and I weren't looking for that. We want to know everyone, and they know you, so it's a family-type deal."
Tidwell will also bring a coach with whom he's very familiar to Thomas Sumter. Terry Anton, who served as his offensive coordinator at Cardinal Newman, will do the same at TSA, so the two are already on the same page offensively. The offensive style won't be a huge shift from what the Generals ran last year, as they'll primarily run an option offense out of the shotgun.
"It'll be an option/gun kind of offense. He's already got the kids working in HUDL and Playbook and that kind of stuff," said Tidwell.
Defensively, Tidwell plans to have a lot of different looks. He has some experience on the defensive side of the ball and hopes to bring an aggressive defense to TSA.
"Defensively, we'll be multiple. I was a defensive coordinator at Commerce High School (in Commerce, Georgia) five years ago and we led the state of Georgia, allowing 11 points a game and then the last two years at St. Joseph's we were the No. 1 and No. 2 defense in North Florida," said Tidwell. "We'll be multiple and we'll give them three or four different fronts and bring some pressure."
This is a difficult offseason to have a brand new scheme, because the offseason is still somewhat up in the air. While Tidwell hasn't been able to get his new team on the field, he has used technology to his advantage to get the Generals up to speed.
"I've had them since April and we've really been focused in. They're doing workouts daily, I've got them in groups and they're FaceTiming each other and sending screenshots of themselves working out," said Tidwell. "The biggest thing for me in how you win in high school football is in the weight room, in the film room and then way down the line is out there practicing."
Tidwell is happy with the commitment his players have shown so far, but he also knows this program isn't going to change overnight. He hasn't been able to go to the school to recruit more kids to come out and play football, so he's hoping that the players that are already on board help start that process.
"The biggest thing is that I'm not going to be able to go out into the hallways and hand out fliers and get kids to play," said Tidwell. "What's going to happen in the long run, though it probably won't happen this summer, is that the kids will say, 'You know what? It's different, it's positive, but it's accountability and structure.' "
While the roster is small and the Generals have struggled to find wins in recent years, Tidwell noted that the cupboard isn't bare at Thomas Sumter.
"There's some individual talent when you're watching them, but the biggest thing right now for me is to have them play as one person, not 11 people," said Tidwell. "But there are pieces there that can win, especially in SCISA 1A. You don't have to have a bunch of (NCAA) Division I players, just a bunch of guys that are committed, work hard and play together."
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