Erskine’s first football season since 1951 is a year away, but preparation for it will be fast and furious this fall.
The college has started construction of football facilities, which athletic director Mark Peeler estimated could be finished in late September or early October.
On top of football preparations, Erskine is adding six more programs in the 2019-20 school year: track and field, beach volleyball, acrobatics and tumbling, bass fishing, rodeo and esports.
“We are expecting around 400 new student-athletes this fall. It’s pretty overwhelming at this point,” Peeler said. He estimated that the total amount of student-athletes at Erskine this school year could be about 650.
Erskine’s future football players will start their freshman school year at Erskine in late August. Peeler said the first year of school, in which the Fleet’s football team won’t yet be playing, will essentially be a redshirt season.
The team will welcome about 130 football players, Peeler said. Some of those players played high school football in the Lakelands, including Tillman Allen (Abbeville), Silas Cannady (McCormick), Trequan Shabazz (Greenwood) and Jeremiah Stevens (Saluda).
Peeler said the team has a tentative 10-game schedule for fall 2020. Some practices will start this fall, but the team will practice much more regularly next fall.
Erskine’s roster numbers have ballooned over the past few years, a trend Peeler set out to reverse starting last school year. Peeler said adding sports will help even out roster numbers, but those changes will take time.
“That’s a monster that was created maybe a little bit accidentally,” Peeler said. “It’s not something you can just do away with. That will take us some time for people to see that we have less baseball players and less men’s basketball players.”
The NCAA’s Title IX law requires schools to provide an equal amount of scholarships to men and women. Division II football teams are able to provide 36 scholarships, a high number which often can offset the number of scholarships for women.
For the 2019-20 school year, Erskine added one men’s sport in addition to football (track and field) and three women’s sports (track and field, acrobatics and tumbling and beach volleyball), plus three more co-ed sports (rodeo, esports and bass fishing).
Erskine hired Shap Boyd as its football coach in November 2018, three months after announcing the return of a football program.
The Fleet’s football team was competitive with other schools in the state, including Clemson and South Carolina, in the early 1900s. The program stopped playing in 1951.
Erskine’s Dode Phillips, who played football and baseball at the school from 1917 to 1921, was inducted in February to the South Carolina Football Hall of Fame.