Coming Home: 1997 Walterboro Bulldogs honored on 20th anniversary of football title | Sports | The Press and Standard
by The Press and Standard | October 12, 2017 5:00 am
Last Updated: October 11, 2017 at 9:08 am
By CINDY CROSBY
Twenty years later, you can still sense how special the 1997 Walterboro Bulldog State Championship Football team was.
Thirty-three members of the ’97 team, including players and coaches, attended Friday’s ceremony honoring the 20th anniversary of their state title. One of those was an honorary member, Austin Barwick, standing in place of his deceased father, Branden Barwick (see related story). Some of the team members traveled from afar to attend, while others remain locally rooted. A few arrived solo, but many had families in tow. Interestingly, at least two members of the ’97 team have sons now playing for the Cougars.
Regardless of how they arrived or how far they traveled, they all came bearing memories and enough stories to fill a book.
And many players arrived wearing their state championship rings.
Although nearly two decades have passed since the bitterly cold day in December of 1997, it seemed the hands of time turned at Cougar Stadium Friday evening — transporting this group of men back to that memorable night.
Coach Leroy Riley, who helped orchestrate Friday’s reunion, was enjoying catching up with his former players and their families. Although there was a 10th anniversary ceremony, Coach Riley was still coaching at that point and couldn’t spend as much time as he’d like with his former players.
“This is a lot more special,” said Coach Riley. “I get to speak to each one and I don’t have to worry about anything else. It is a lot more enjoyable this time around.”
“This means a lot to me,” said former player Delshaun Wilkey, who played an integral role in the ’97 State Championship game when he was one of two Bulldogs who sacked Hartsville’s quarterback and preserved the 28-27 win. “I am just happy to see everyone and see how they’re doing and get to see the current football team. It is a great feeling to be a part of history.”
Wilkey remains connected to football in Colleton County through his son, Delshaun Wilkey Jr., who is a junior defensive and offensive lineman playing for the Cougars, and his cousin, Nick Wilkey, a senior running back for Colleton County.
His advice for legacy players was simple. “Go hard,” said Wilkey. “Leave it all out on the field.”
As the members of the ’97 team came off the field from the halftime ceremony and stopped for a group picture, it was, indeed, a special moment.
Today, team chemistry is often elusive — something many teams chase, but never find. For the ’97 Bulldogs, the chemistry, brotherhood and love for the game still exists and is evident in their presence.
In fact, it just seems to crackle through the air, giving hope.