Palmetto Prep offers high school graduates 2nd chance at college football dream
Allen Wallace – Cola Daily
Snow fell across the Columbia area last weekend. Temperatures hovered around the freezing mark. The wind caused the air to feel colder still, but for dozens of young men, it was still a good morning to dress in workout clothes and show off their football skills. Cold weather just wasn’t enough to keep them from chasing their dreams.
They gathered at a muddy field on Nursery Road to try out for the Palmetto Prep Academy football team. Most were high school seniors. Some were 2015 graduates. All shared the same dream: to play college football.
“We give them an opportunity to make their dreams come true,” said Dolores Ridgell, Palmetto Prep’s director of operations. “That’s what they want. That’s what we do.”
Palmetto Prep is a nonprofit organization, formerly known as Gray Military Academy, which exists to help high school football players who did not get a college football scholarship offer or invitation to walk on. The tryouts are open to all.
“Anybody that’s looking to play in college and has some athletic ability and thinks they could make a difference, we’d like to see them,” said Offensive Coordinator and Recruiting Coordinator Nathan Dorton.
Palmetto Prep holds open tryouts to fill its roster. The team competes in the fall against junior colleges and other prep schools around the Southeast. The players are recent high school graduates — the seniors trying out Saturday would graduate before the Palmetto Prep season starts — who missed out on college offers because of test scores, grades or a lack of recognition.
“We’re giving these boys a second chance,” Ridgell said. “The Midlands has so much local talent, and that’s what we’re looking for. A lot of times local talent gets overlooked.”
Some of the players take classes at Midlands Tech. Others focus on improving their standardized test scores, and others still simply focus on football while working part-time or full-time jobs in many cases.
Many of the players come from the Columbia area, but last year’s Minutemen featured a starting quarterback from Texas and another player from Canada, as well as others from Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina and Florida. Thirty-one players on that team earned offers from colleges.
Not everyone makes the cut. The coaches made their expectations clear Saturday. The team comes first. Hustle is mandatory. Cursing on the field is not tolerated. Hard work is a given.
“The ones we take will be hungry,” Dorton said.
Another open tryout will be held in February and possibly another in the spring if slots remain open. More information on Palmetto Prep is available here.