Rock Hill’s new head football coach talks spring practice, quarterbacks and more in Q&A

Randy Birch is grateful for the Rock Hill community.

The former Gaffney assistant football coach was hired as Rock Hill’s head football coach in March, taking over for Bubba Pittman.

Birch said he’s been welcomed with open arms.

“The thing I’ve seen since I’ve got here is the community support,” Birch said. “I’ve spoken with several media members about the desire to get better, and the want to is there right now.”

Birch spent 11 years coaching at Gaffney, serving as offensive coordinator for the team’s 2021 5A state championship team.

Now, he takes over a Rock Hill team that posted its first winning season since 2019 in 2023.

Birch believes the Bearcats have the talent to take that next step.

“We’re blessed to have pretty good team speed,” Birch said. “Being able to bring that effort out to showcase our speed every time, every play is something I’m working on developing at the moment. Just the culture of all-out effort.”

Rock Hill opens up the 2024 season at River Bluff on Aug. 23.

Birch spoke with The Herald heading into spring practices. The answers have been edited for length.

Q: Have you established what kind of offense you’re going to run?

A: We’re in the process of installing some stuff now. I don’t know if I have a word that I would call our offense. I wouldn’t say we’re air raid. I wouldn’t tell you we’re a power team. ...The main offense is going to be to get our best players the ball. That’s the offense...The offense is really find a way to get our best players the ball in space.

Rock Hill’s Kaiden Watkins brings down Spartaburg’s Justin Rice.
Rock Hill’s Kaiden Watkins brings down Spartaburg’s Justin Rice.

Q: Defensively, you have a lot of young players who got playing time, such as defensive backs Kaiden Watkins and Nigel Lightner. What are you looking at on that side?

A: That side of the ball will look similar to what we did at Gaffney. It won’t be exactly what I was doing, but it’ll be fairly similar. The experience is a good thing as far as having been out there on Friday nights, but (the system) is really new to everybody...We’re taking that slow. The goal on offense and defense is to get good at something before we do too much.

Q: Last year’s team posted a winning record for the first time since 2019. How do you aim at fully implementing this new system while also maintaining that level of progression?

A: Obviously, you want to win every game. That’s always the plan, but at the same time, everything is new to the kids, so we got a lot of catching up to do...The schedule is a little bit tougher this year than last year, but the expectation hasn’t changed. The expectation is to go out there and win. That’s been a point of emphasis in practice everyday of who we have to beat. You got some really tough teams (like River Bluff and Hartsville). South Pointe is really, really good. Northwestern is a state contender every year. Clover’s been in the mix the last four or five years, they’ve had some big seasons. Catawba Ridge two years ago went deep in the playoffs. (Nation Ford) has had its ups and downs, but they’re pretty tough. I know their track team is having a good year with some of their guys, so they’re going to be athletic and speedy. And then Lancaster went on a big run last year. I think our schedule is a little tougher than last season, but the expectation hasn’t changed.

Q: What’s the main thing you’re looking to improve on in spring practice?

A: Effort. We want to line up right and play fast. Throughout the whole process of me getting here and interviewing for the job, I emphasized lining up right and playing fast. We got to get better at getting 11 people on all three phases of the game flying around. Getting that true 110% that coaches talk about a lot, getting that out of them. I haven’t quite seen that on tape or so far in workouts. I think we’re playing hard, but I think we got a little bit left in the tank.

Q: What is it exactly that you’re looking for and how are you looking to change that?

A: One thing that’ll be good and I think will help us play fast is the simplicity. Defensively, we’re not going to run a lot of different stuff. I mean, we’re going to give the illusion of some different stuff, but we’re going to be pretty simple on defense, and I think the simplicity allows you to play fast...Our defense is going to be based out of the 3-4, which is a balanced front most of the time, so I think just the simplicity allows us to get a little faster because there’s a little less thinking and reading going on. When they understand we’re only doing our job and not worried about somebody else’s job, I think that just ... makes us be a little faster because we’re a little more confident in what we’re doing. Instilling some confidence will probably be my answer. Some confidence in what we’re doing, some confidence in that we had a winning season last year, so we see the progression coming. We’ve had a good offseason in the weight room. If we just continue to improve throughout the next couple of weeks and months, I think the confidence level would raise as far as what we know to do and then physically we’ve matured and things like that as well.

Rock Hill’s Matthew Wilson looks for an opening
Rock Hill’s Matthew Wilson looks for an opening

Q: You’re moving on from a four-year starter in Matthew Wilson. Coming up behind him, you have junior Kason Canupp. You also have former Lewisville quarterback Ian Grissom coming in for his senior season who was one of the top passers in the state last year. Talking about the quarterback battle; has there been anything with that so far?

A: Athletically, I was able to see Kason do some stuff and check his testing numbers, and he’s a great athlete. He can run, jump, throw, all those kinds of things. Ian brings in some experience at a lower level, so he’s going to have to catch up to the 5A speed. So far right now, it’s a tight battle, and both of those guys have definitely done a good job...That’s going to be a tight battle probably throughout the summer before one of those guys takes the helm, and the good thing about both of them is they’re athletic enough that if they ended up being the No.2 at quarterback, there’s a good chance they can find a role elsewhere on the offensive or defensive side. So I’ll be excited to see that. The cream rises to the top, and I think competition at any position is great. In the back end on the defensive side and at the receiver positions, there’s going to be some great competitions across the board. One benefit of coming in here fresh is that I don’t have an opinion on who’s better than who, so everybody kind of has a fresh start. I’m going to be honest with you, about every job on the team is wide open.”

Q: Will you have Canupp and Grissom split reps in the offseason?

A: We’ll see with the offseason work. It’ll be day-to-day. Who’s having a great day versus who’s having a bad day. I wouldn’t say it’s taking turns or what not, but there will be some times where this kid gets a little more of this drill or this play, but right now, it’s a little bit of a 50/50 split, I’d say.

Q: What position group will this team be leaning on heading into the season?

A: At the receiver position, we have three returning seniors with Duncan Stockunas, EJ Ratley and Malik Clark. Those guys played a ton of snaps last year, so right now, I would say that’s the leading group. Unfortunately, those three are doing track right now, so we’re going to miss them for a lot of spring ball, so that’s a little bit of a gut punch as far as them taking over that leadership role. The secondary guys, the corners and safeties, they got experience and they can run. Those guys are already pretty confident, and that’s just going to continue to get better. So I’d say those two groups at the moment. I haven’t been able to evaluate us as a team together in practice yet, and it’s tough to say who that group is going to be. At some point, you hope whoever wins that quarterback battle, you always wanted your quarterback to be the leader. That’s going to be part of the equation on who wins that battle.