Crowds poured into the stadium at North Augusta High School this year in record numbers. Game day staff tried to boost attendance with sideshow features such as airplane flyovers, cars with jet engines, motorcycle spirit lines and a T-shirt launcher that could clear the press box from midfield.
But none of the gimmicks could equal the show on the field in 2009. When the pregame festivities gave way to the main attraction, all eyes turned to the Yellow Jackets and quarterback Loranzo Hammonds for the real show.
Hammonds threw for more than 2,300 yards, surpassed 1,000 yards rushing and tallied 44 touchdowns in an 11-2 season. No other area quarterback came close to those numbers.
"I wish I could tell you it was all coaching," North Augusta coach Dan Pippin said.
In reality, The Augusta Chronicle 2009 South Carolina Football Player of the Year has been preparing to be a top notch quarterback since he first strapped on the pads.
"It's become instinct," Hammonds said. "I've been scrambling since the seventh grade."
Hammonds has always been a quarterback. Includ-ing his days in middle school, he has played the position for the past five years. Pippin said he's lost only four times as a starting quarterback.
But this year was different for the 6-foot, 190-pound junior. Hammonds took over as the starting signal caller on the varsity squad for the first time after being a backup his sophomore season. Pippin made sure Hammonds played every third series last year in anticipation for the 2009 campaign. Hammonds said it was that in-game experience that had him fully prepared this year.
"Before the season I told myself I was ready to go out and be the guy," he said. "And then before every game I'd tell myself I'm going to be the best player on the field. Every game. Every time."
On most Friday nights, Hammonds accomplished that goal.
He had some of the best targets in the area to throw to in the form of receivers Matt Hazel, Jessie Pernell, Montez McGuire and Cam Alston. The passing game, with help from a strong defense and Hammonds' rushing yards, led the Yellow Jackets to a 10-1 regular season mark -- a full reversal from the 1-10 record in Pippin's first year as head coach. Pippin's program has gradually gained the support of parents and fans in North Augusta since he came from South Aiken four years ago.
The proof of the Yellow Jackets' success was shown in their record, but the proof of their support was in the bleachers. Pippin said an average of more than 5,000 fans attended each game this year.
For a player like Hammonds, the big crowds provided the perfect fuel for success.
"It would help him. He plays to that," Pippin said. "He loves the crowd. In fact, all my guys feed off that. They feed off the fans and the band being there. When the band gets going and the kids start dancing around, it's good for everybody."
Everybody except Hammonds' mother, Kimberly Hammonds, who spent much of the season in a motherly state somewhere between worry, excitement, pride and anxiousness.
"I can't explain it," she said. "I pace. I don't sit still."
And she'll have at least one more year of such games. Hammonds is set to do it all again next season.
"If he works hard and does what he's supposed to do, the sky's the limit for him," Pippin said. "He can go wherever he wants."
Reach Billy Byler at (706) 823-3216 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
SCHOOL: North Augusta
SEASON HIGHLIGHTS: Hammonds led all area quarterbacks with 2,315 yards passing, 1,016 yards rushing and 44 touchdowns. ... In his first year as a varsity starter, led the Yellow Jackets to an 11-2 season. ... Threw only four interceptions in 13 games.
Q&A WITH LORANZO HAMMONDS
Q: Besides hard work, why have you been successful?
A: Experience. I've been playing for so long that everything's become second nature to me.
Q: What do you like about being an athlete at North Augusta?
A: The spotlight. When you win you get a lot of attention, but when you lose you get the good and bad that comes with it.
Q: Fifty years from now, what will we all remember about this decade?
A: Hopefully they'll remember this team, that we went 10-1 (in the regular season) and they'll remember everything I did.
Q: What song motivates you before competition?
A: We Be Steady Mobbin' by Lil Wayne
Q: What is a Web site you visit every day?