Southern Columbia will go for a 3-peat in 2019, looking to extend their PIAA record with a 10th state championship. The scary thing? This might be their best team yet. The Tigers have what they're calling a "once in a lifetime" senior class, with three players already committed to Big Ten schools: Cal Haladay to Michigan State, Gaige Garcia to Michigan, and Julian Fleming to Ohio State.
"With all the great Southern teams that's come through the program, all the state championship teams, all the talent that were on the teams, it's honestly, probably, one of the biggest accomplishments we'll ever have at this school district," Fleming said on having at least three division one players in his senior class.
"We have so many weapons, offensive and defense," added senior quarterback Preston Zachman. "We have so many kids that either have division one offers or are being looked at by division one schools and I think that's something our school has never seen before."
The Tigers bring back nine starters on defense, but need to replace five on offense, including their quarterback. Stone Hollenbach now plays for Alabama, opening the door for Zachman, but he's no stranger to the starting role. He's got five starts under his belt, filling in for an injured Hollenbach last season.
"Preston's a very good athlete," Southern Columbia Football Coach Jim Roth said. "He's excelled in a number of positions for us in the past. He has experience playing quarterback and he showed that when he stepped in last year."
"He's had the starting experience," Fleming said. "He played junior high as quarterback. He's played quarterback since midget. So I think he's confident. I think everybody's confident in him."
"You feel a little pressure, but at the same time, I've got to be like, 'it's just another season,'" Zachman admitted. "I do have some big shoes to fill in, but I'm not feeling that much pressure. I'm feeling pretty confident."
Southern Columbia's first game this season is in Columbia - Columbia, South Carolina. The Tigers are playing a true road game this Sunday in the ESPN High School Football Kickoff against the Hammond School. It's the first nationally televised game in school history.
"It's a chance for a little school between two corn fields to showcase their skills on a national level," Fleming said. "Probably going to be one of the most exciting things we do as a high school."
"This is something that every kid dreams of," Zachman added. "None of us ever thought we'd be playing on ESPN in high school. This is an awesome opportunity and and I'm very excited for it."
That season opener in South Carolina is Sunday at 2:00 PM on ESPN2.