Erik Kimrey gets it right

Mention Erik Kimrey's name within earshot of a Gamecock fan, and it is just about a sure thing that two words will immediately follow in response: The Fade. Kimrey cemented his place in Gamecock lore with that 4th-and-10 touchdown toss to Jermale Kelly back in 2000, a strike that paved the way to a 23-19 win over Mississippi State and brought Kimrey instant cult status.

Erik Kimrey, though, is not all about self. Nope. Far, from it actually. He doesn't seek fame, doesn't need his ego stroked, and you won't hear him use the words "me" or "I" very often. If ever.

Instead, the 29-year old son of longtime Columbia area high school coach Bill Kimrey is all about "team," whether that team is the Gamecock squads for which he once played, or the Hammond School team he currently coaches. And the Skyhawks program has done nothing but flourish under his guidance, racking up wins in 28 of their last 29 games, and amassing a dandy 45-6 overall record since he assumed the reigns in 2004. His current edition at the private school on Galway Lane is 3-0, ranked #1 in the largest classification in SCISA, and gunning for a third consecutive state championship.

On a sunny Monday morning, Erik Kimrey is sitting in the Hammond football office, decorated both by past newspaper articles documenting big wins and a slew of photographs of the players and teams that earned those very championships. He is doing his best to break down game film of his next opponent, a task made nearly impossible by the presence of not only a reporter, but a continuous parade of Hammond players, past and present, that seem to pop in for a quick visit every five minutes or so.

Among those dropping by is Walker Inabinet, the second-string deep snapper for the Gamecocks who walked on at Carolina after playing for Kimrey at Hammond. It is obvious by the way the young men greet him, the tone of their voice and the look in their eyes, that these players, past and present, genuinely want to be around him. They want to be coached by him. Want to be mentored by him. Want to be his friend. They love him and it shows.

Erik Kimrey gets it right.

You might think that a coach, any coach, who has achieved so much so soon in his career, is obsessed with winning games, doing whatever is necessary to produce that next victory, that next championship. Well, Erik Kimrey is not "any" coach. And after hearing what IS most important to him, getting a real idea of his philosophy towards coaching teenagers on the verge of adulthood, finding out that he considers this not a job, but a genuine calling - well, let's just say it explains perfectly this parade of players hoping to share lunch, or perhaps just a minute or two of conversation between classes, with a coach that clearly does more than determine the depth charts during the week and call plays on Friday nights.

"I think you have to keep things in perspective," Kimrey explained while taking a break from studying game film. "It's hard when you work in a profession in which you can be tangibly measured by your success based on a win-loss record. I just don't believe in that. I think that at the end of the day, which to me is the end of life, the way that your career or your life will be measured is by the impact that you've had on people. My legacy is not going to have anything to do with my win-loss record. People may mention that, but what are going to resonate more are the relationships I have made with the kids along the way."

"So that to me is how you measure success as a coach, as a teacher, as anything," the Dutch Fork High product continued. "The type of influence and impact that you have on people is what matters. And so that's what I'm shooting for. Now, don't get me wrong, we want to win. But not at the sacrifice of that. And those two things are not mutually exclusive. You can be as good as you can be on the field and still treat people the right way, respect your kids, try to not only be a friend to them but help them to help themselves. At Hammond, we're in the business of enabling kids to achieve their potential, and that's certainly what I'm in coaching to do. And that's how I should be measured - not based on wins, losses, or championships"

Erik Kimrey gets it right.

Growing up was just as you would imagine for the son of a coach. Exposed to football at the earliest of ages, Kimrey realized he loved the game early on. "Well, I've been around the game my whole life," he related. "So in a sense it's always been in my blood. Ever since I was an infant, my mom would take me to games. As a young child I was a ball boy for my dad's team all the way up through adolescence. Then of course I started playing at Dutch Fork. I really enjoyed that time with my dad as far as learning a lot about the game. Because I was a quarterback, we would game plan together. As a junior I called a lot of the plays at the line of scrimmage. We would go "no huddle." I called the plays, I slid protections. My senior year, I called them all (plays). Actually, toward the end of my junior year, I started calling all the plays."

"I'll share a good story," Kimrey recalled with a laugh. "I would come in for meetings on Sundays with the coaching staff when I was a senior in high school. One Sunday, my dad and one of the offensive coordinators were arguing about some route or call that they felt would be good. Really arguing. So I stood up and I started walking out of the meeting room. And they said ‘Where are you going?' And I said, ‘I don't know why you're arguing, because I'm the one calling the plays Friday!' Anyway, my dad tells that story. I'm sure to them they thought it was a good thing. And I think they just turned and looked at each other and started laughing."

As for his dad, the junior Kimrey finds it unfair, irritating, and inappropriate when folks attempt to compare him and his dad simply on the basis of wins and losses.

"I took many principles from him that hopefully, if you compared our careers, you would see that most of those principles are in line," Kimrey related. "But we're different too. I study a lot of theology and philosophy, and a lot of those things are in my coaching philosophy. I'm a nerd and I love books. I read a lot. I love to study how cultures and societies work."

"So more than anything, when you compare my dad and my career, you'll see very similar principles. And that's to me how you judge. It's not based on wins and losses or championships, but how we handle ourselves. And I think you'll see some similarities there."

Erik Kimrey gets it right.

Many vital ingredients contribute to the great success Hammond has achieved on the football field since Kimrey succeeded another former USC footballer, Kurt Wilson, as head coach back in 2003. The staff he has assembled, which includes a couple of former Gamecock teammates, is "awesome," according to Kimrey. But it's the support system the school provides its students that, while perfectly complementing his own core values and beliefs, have enabled Kimrey to put together what could potentially be a historic third consecutive state title.

"Well, I think first I'm in an unbelievably great environment with a lot of people that care, not only about this program but about these young people," Kimrey said. "It starts with a community that's committed to being excellent in every area. They want to see diverse kids that want to excel in academics, and athletics, and the arts. We push that here. So we have commitment to excellence as a school first, and that feeds into our athletic program".

"Also, I have an unbelievable staff," continued Kimrey. "Jamie Scott, who played with us at Carolina, is our strength coach. He's an amazing motivator. I've seen him literally transform some kids' lives through some tough love and discipline in the weight room. Jeff Barnes is our offensive line coach, and he does a tremendous job, too. We just have a great coaching staff overall. And then, again, we have kids committed to being the best that they can be."

"We have a philosophy that we have adapted from Pete Carroll over at Southern Cal. It's called "Winning Forever." The way you win forever is to concentrate on the here and now. It's not just about this season or this game or this practice. Instead, it's about this drill, it's about this very step. And every single moment, we are competing with ourselves about how we can constantly get better. And if we take a drill off, we've lost that competition. When we don't finish this sprint, we've lost. We have to constantly keep pushing ourselves. In football and in everything we do."

"We've had six players in the last two years play college football. This past year, we had a class of ten senior players. Three went on to play college football, including Stone Pinckney, who is at Northwestern in the Big 10. He is the first Hammond kid in 30 years to go to a Division One school on a full football scholarship. And this year we have Will Patterson, who has already been offered by Newberry, and the Ivy League schools are all over him. You're talking about a kid who scored over 1300 on the SAT and bench presses 405 pounds. He is a very, very good player and someone is going to be very pleasantly surprised when they get him."

Erik Kimrey gets it right.

Of course, once a Gamecock, always a Gamecock. So how does the player-turned-coach see a Carolina program still struggling to get over the hump in the nation's premier football conference?

"I'm thrilled that Carolina has the coaching staff that they have," Kimrey enthused. "I feel that if we're patient, a lot of the building blocks are already there. I see a good defense. I think that if we just let some of these young guys mature and let these coaches continue to recruit, these guys will jump up another level. I'm pulling for them hard."

Kimrey is overflowing with enthusiasm for what he calls his "unbelievably good" job. "I felt a strong calling to work with young people. I knew that here at Hammond I would be able to work with young people who are going to be the movers and the shakers in our culture. And I know that I had some teachers and coaches that were very influential in my life and felt a high calling to be that kind of mentor in other peoples' lives. I'm very comfortable with it right now. I don't know what the future holds. I'm not saying that I wouldn't (ever leave Hammond), but big lights and big attention will never sway my decision. I don't need those things to be authenticated as a coach. Those things are just superficial. I'm just truly very, very happy here."

With a fantastic job, a wonderful wife in high school sweetheart Erica, and daughters (the undisputed apples of his eye) Kaitlyn Dean, 2, and Karis, 3 months, life is good for Kimrey these days. So it should come as no surprise that, when asked what opportunity he might consider down the road that would deviate from what he humbly describes as a "blessed" situation, only one possibility emerges.

"I have a lot of pride in the University of South Carolina," Kimrey beamed. "I would love to coach there one day. I guess that's one of my pipe dreams. I think that would be fun and something that I would think about. But a chance to coach at Carolina would be the only job that I could see myself considering. I would love to coach there someday on some level."

Yes, Erik Kimrey gets it right.

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