Thomas Lowry was named Player of the Year by the Laurens County Touchdown Club, and Todd Kirk was Coach of the Year.

Who else?

The humble Crusaders of Laurens Academy were the only team in the county to have a winning record, make the state playoffs and complete the season. The Crusaders fell a game shy of playing for the S.C. Independent School Association’s 8-man state championship, and their 8-4 record was the school’s best in a decade.

Eight-man football in general is a prolific hybrid, but Lowry led the Laurens Academy version of Operation Warp Speed. Lowry was a dervish who could do more than whirl. He passed for 2,697 yards and ran for 1,578. With 47 passing touchdowns and 19 rushing, Lowry bore responsibility for 66 scores.

Thanks in part to the S.C. High School League’s restrictions and in part to outbreaks of COVID-19, neither of Laurens County’s other two teams scored anywhere close to 66 touchdowns … combined.

Kirk’s senior-laden Crusaders – technically only nine, but on a roster of 17 – lost heartbreakers in their first two games, then closed with eight victories in the final 10 games before falling to eventual state champion Holly Hill Academy in SCISA’s penultimate round.

“These players made my job easier,” Kirk said. “We started out 0-2, and I thought we still had a good football team. In the end, we did.

“The playoffs are fun when you haven’t been there in a while.”

But everyone took part in a celebration that there was football to play at all in a season of games against both other teams and a deadly pandemic. A video slide show of action shots throughout the season honored everyone, and the all-county team – nine Raiders, nine Red Devils and seven Crusaders – took individual pictures and figurative bows to club president Buddy Bridges’ rousing introductions.

The county’s other two head coaches, Darryl Smith of Laurens and Corey Fountain of Clinton, offered rundowns of the season just completed and hope for the next.

South Carolina State head football coach Buddy Pough set a perfect tone as the guest speaker. Pough talked about his school’s remarkable tradition, built on spectacular players who came to the Orangeburg school in part because bigger schools paid little attention to them.

Four members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame – Harry Carson, Deacon Jones, Marion Motley and Donnie Shell – once played for the Bulldogs. More than 40 alums have played in the National Football League.

Pough had an affable way of delivering a message to the county’s athletes that could be summed up in one word for these troubled times: Behave.

He offered advice on how young men should select their friends, couched in the concept of keeping “eyes on the prize.”

“Can I trust him? Do I care about him? Do I want to be great?”

In 2019, Pough hiked his record at S.C. State to 133-74 and became the Bulldogs’ alltime leader in coaching wins. The team hasn’t played a game since but hopes to tee it up at least four times in the spring.