Byrnes will be there in spirit, too

Church-goers in Duncan, S.C., got a bit more than expected Sunday as the buzz surrounding ESPN RISE FAB 50 No. 2 Byrnes' game against No. 1 St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) extended into the parish.

"Even in church on Sunday there was a lot of talk about it. They [people] are real proud of the team and spirits have been up high," Duncan Mayor John Hamby said. "We are proud of our football team. Byrnes is a great school and it is an honor for me to serve as mayor of a town with a school like that in it."

"I think the entire school and community are extremely excited to play St. Thomas Aquinas," Byrnes principal Jeff Rogers said. "We're no strangers to playing ranked opponents out of state and we've had success in those contests, but our staff feels like we're taking our program to the next level with this game."

For the players, it has been a week of intense practice as the team prepares for its second game against an out-of-state opponent this season. The Rebels traveled to play at Central Gwinnett (Lawrenceville, Ga.) on Aug. 29.

"The atmosphere at school has been a little more energetic, but the community is really buzzing about the game," senior receiver Jazz King said via e-mail. "Practice at Byrnes is always intense, but I think we are more focused this week. Even the younger guys are really dialed in on the scout team."

Around town there are signs in cars and restaurants exclaiming "Go Rebels!" and "Go Byrnes Go!"

According to Rogers, the team was to leave from Charlotte/Douglas International Airport (N.C.) Thursday morning, and fans were planning to fly out of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, Charlotte and Greenville-Spartanburg (S.C.) over the next two days.

"I'm sitting at the airport now and there's a huge accumulation of fans in blue waiting to get on a plane," Rogers said. "We carried 3,000 to Ohio and that was our first experience with the out of state teams. With the economy being what it is now it might not be that good, but I would be shocked if we don't have at least 1,500 at the game."

Byrnes is led by a host of talented athletes, including ESPNU's No. 10 ranked player in the nation, running back Marcus Lattimore. Lattimore is second in South Carolina in rushing with 637 yards and first in the state with 12 touchdowns.

Lattimore, along with quarterback Chas Dodd, receivers Tony Hillman, Torian Henderson and King have spurred an offense that has averaged more than 61 points this season. The Rebels are coming off one of their best games -- a 60-7 win over Gaffney in which Byrnes totaled 592 yards of offense.

The game is on ESPNU, and for those in Duncan not traveling, local restaurants will show it live.

"Playing on ESPN, it really gets no bigger," King said. "This is something you dream of when you are younger.

"Personally it [a win] would show that hard work pays off. And not only would it be a great win for Byrnes, but great for Duncan and great for South Carolina -- showing that we can compete at a high level, which is something our coaches always stress."

Mike Loveday covers high school sports for ESPNRISE.com