Once upon a time, football season was scheduled to begin this Friday night. Then along came a virus.

Now it seems incredible that Laurens Academy will – knock on wood and cross your fingers – play Holly Hill Academy on Aug. 28 at Todd Kirk Field. The Crusaders are to have four games before Laurens visits Greenwood and Clinton travels to Union (County) on Sept. 25.

It’s been so long that now it seems so soon.

Nonetheless, opening night for 8-man football figures to be a good matchup. The Crusaders and Raiders were both 4-5 last year, though in separate S.C. Independent School Association regions.

Hopes are high on Hwy. 49. LA’s numbers are up. Everyone is back. Everyone looks bigger, stronger and faster. What a difference this year could make.

“We’re optimistic,” said Kirk, the LA head coach. “Older kids are more responsive. There’s a little more maturity. Practices are easier and the kids have a better understanding of the system. It enables us to get more done on the practice field.”

Last year Thomas Lowry, LA’s leading passer and rusher and third-leading tackler, put up numbers that made calculators overheat. He connected on 157 out of 230 passes for 30 touchdowns and 2,084 yards. He made almost as many interceptions (3) as he threw (4). Lowry rushed for 822 yards, averaging 6.3 yards a carry.

Lowry spread the tosses around. Clarence Bertoli was the ball-control receiver (63 catches for an average of 9.3 yards) and Cal Robertson was the deep threat (44-20.2). In between were Diamonte Grant (27-10.9) and Caio Rita (23-15.1).

On defense, Robertson made 82 tackles, followed by Grant with 66 and Lowry with 61. A transfer, Brett Young, should help shore up the defense at both cornerback and linebacker (as well as wide receiver).

Laurens Academy has been on mostly a long, slow climb since its most recent winning season in 2010 (11-1). Since a 5-5 season in 2014, the Crusaders have combined to win 13 games and lose 37, but only a forfeit – LA ran out of players due to injuries at Cathedral Academy – prevented them from making the playoffs last year.

Mix in a little defense – LA scored 37.1 points per game but allowed 39.4 – and this could be a big year for the Crusaders.

“We have pressed to get better defensively,” Kirk said. “We’ve put them through more drills in practice. We’ve been able to scrimmage an offense against a defense. Defense is about an attitude, and we’re getting that. Our practices are enabling us to do more and I’ve seen good results.”