COLUMBIA — Dakereon Joyner didn’t wait.
As soon as he saw the long-haired, bearded quarterback stroll into South Carolina’s locker room, he went up to him. With the slightest of smirks, he extended his hand.
“Oh, you’re Collin,” Joyner said.
Collin Hill gripped Joyner’s hand despite a withering stare. He and Joyner had met before, on different sides of the football field.
“I wasn’t going to bring it up. But that was the first thing he told me,” Hill said. “We knew each other but he made sure that was the first thing he said, ‘Hey, remember the last time we played?’
‘Yeah, I do remember that, thanks for reminding me.’”
The two laughed it off as they were now teammates, and as it has turned out, Joyner now counts on Hill to get him the ball. A South Carolina native who left for Colorado State and transferred back after four years, Hill figured he might be playing with a few guys he knew.
And one would be the quarterback who five years ago, on the field each now calls home, led his Fort Dorchester Patriots to a 59-31 state championship win over Hill’s Dorman Cavaliers. The game earned Joyner another trophy in a career full of them and ended Hill’s high school career.
“It was definitely the first thing I said the first time I saw him. I wasn’t wearing my ring, don’t remember what I said, but I remember how he looked when I spoke to him,” said Joyner, who switched from QB to wide receiver at USC. “We joked about it.”
Memories of high school football glory die hard. The missed chance still glows in Hill’s mind. But there’s always another opportunity to win, and now Joyner can help him do it.
“He’s a stud. You saw what he did (against Vanderbilt) when he gets it in his hands,” Hill said. “I’m glad he’s on my team.”
The 2015 season had each of the two state powers regretting sour endings in 2014. Dorman won 10 games but lost to Dutch Fork in the quarterfinals. Fort Dorchester went 11-3 but was blanked 20-0 by Hillcrest in the semis.
A strong-armed senior, Hill lost his top target (current Philadelphia Eagle J.J. Arcega-Whiteside) but loved the returning camaraderie. Even in preseason 7-on-7 drills, Hill thought they had a chance to be pretty good.
In North Charleston, Joyner as a freshman had already shown he was one of the state’s most lethal playmakers. The Patriots looked so strong early that they held themselves back in preseason scrimmages to prevent injury.
“Everybody raves about the 2015 team, and God, it was a great team. But you got to understand, our third game we beat Cane Bay by one point,” coach Steve LaPrad said. “Second game, we played Carolina Forest and Dakereon didn’t play because he was dinged up. We intercepted on the goal line with a minute to go and won by eight.”
With Joyner under center, the Patriots rolled to a perfect regular season and entered the playoffs as the No. 2 seed. Dorman only lost three games but was the No. 9 seed.
“We finished third in our region that year and we had to play four playoff games, all on the road,” Dorman coach Dave Gutshall said. “We were an underdog from the get-go.”
The road to state
Fort Dorchester put away pesky Spring Valley while Dorman crushed West Ashley. That set up a Patriots second-rounder against Boiling Springs while Dorman had a rematch with Dutch Fork.
“Sometimes I think it’s easier to play on the road,” Gutshall said. “We had two really tough road trips: We opened in Charleston, then the second week at Dutch Fork. We had lost to them in the regular season.”
Yet Dorman routed the Silver Foxes, 49-19. It remains the last playoff game four-time defending state champ Dutch Fork lost.
Each team faced a nemesis in the semifinals, Fort Dorchester against Goose Creek and Dorman at Byrnes.
“My class hadn’t beat them yet. We played at Byrnes already that season and lost by three scores,” Hill said. “We were missing our best receiver, too, but we’d kind of been on a roll and I just think we went in with a mindset that we weren’t going to back down.”
“The Lower State championship was one of the most exciting games I was ever a part of,” Joyner said. “We had a one-minute drive at the end and we ended up winning.”
In the Upstate, Hill tossed a 16-yard game-tying touchdown on fourth-and-4 and the Cavaliers recovered two turnovers in the second half.
“Collin, for maybe the only time that season, I called him to run the ball with about 25 seconds on the clock. And he got it,” Gutshall said. “That team just rose to the occasion. And it was mostly riding Collin.”
“Prior to playing that game, we knew Collin was a weapon to recognize. He’s a heck of a player, now,” LaPrad said. “They had good receivers, good running backs, they were huge across the front. But he was our number-one problem.”
Gutshall said the same about Joyner.
“They were good up front and Dakereon was as big a run threat as he was a pass threat. Just a great athlete,” he said. “They had a really good team around him, too.”
The two QBs didn’t pay much attention to each other watching film as they were looking at the defenses.
“I knew of them but I didn’t know much,” Hill said. “You turn on the tape and we were kind of like, ‘There’s a reason they’re in the state championship.’”
“He was committed to Colorado State, we knew he was pretty good,” Joyner said. “They had a very athletic defense.”
“It was perfect weather, in the 70s in December. We were confident,” Hill said. “To be honest, going in we thought we probably had it. We’d been through a tougher schedule.”
“I was 15 years old, the most nervous guy in the building,” Joyner said. “I think my first pass was a small screen and I threw it over my receiver’s head.”
The two QBs traded touchdowns — Joyner with a 14-yard run after Fort Dorchester intercepted Hill, and Hill finding Eli Buckley from 38 yards — and field goals to set up a 10-10 game.
A reverse pass created a touchdown and a 17-10 Fort Dorchester lead but Hill connected with Bryson Woodruff for a 64-yard score with fewer than four minutes before halftime.
From there, it was a disaster for Dorman.
After Fort Dorchester scored with only 55 seconds to play, Hill was intercepted when his receiver stopped running a route, eerily familiar to a crucial play during last week’s USC loss to LSU. That turned into another touchdown and a 31-17 lead.
“It’s not so much a read, it’s a catch and throw and counting on the wideout to continue the pattern,” Gutshall said. “They scored on the last play of the half.”
“That kind of took (Hill) out of the game. We were able to play more pass and not worry about the run,” LaPrad said. “We could drop a lot more people in coverage. If we hadn’t got that right before the half, it would have been a throw-down.”
The second half was a coronation. The Patriots finished a perfect 15-0 season by scoring two touchdowns in the first four minutes and turning a fumbled kickoff into a 48-17 lead.
“Man, they came out and whipped us. We could not stop No. 5,” Hill said, referring to Joyner. “That dude was running all over the place. No one could tackle that guy.”
Joyner threw for 303 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for 63 and another score. Hill threw for 297 and three TDs. They shook hands afterward and wished each other well.
Five years later
Hill followed his head coach at Colorado State, Mike Bobo, as he became offensive coordinator at USC. Joyner committed to USC and Gutshall was the head coach in his final high school game, the 2017 Shrine Bowl.
At USC, Joyner has been a quarterback, receiver, quarterback again and now a full-time receiver. At Colorado State, Hill battled through three ACL tears before ending up in Columbia, where the locker room meeting occurred.
Since, Hill has started the Gamecocks’ five games this year while Joyner’s first touch of the season resulted in a touchdown. Hill blocked on the play.
“It’s a beautiful thing. I don’t think I knew he’s a natural-born leader,” Joyner said. “He’s a guy that everybody looks up to.”
They’ll attempt to get past the LSU loss and post a winning record over USC’s final five games. They were never enemies but Hill had plenty of bitterness about the title loss, all of it disappearing when that same No. 5 came up to him, tweaked his nose a bit and welcomed him to the Gamecocks.
“They’re both such good people. Sometimes matches are made in heaven,” LaPrad said. “Those guys are not only great athletes and great players, but I think coach (Will) Muschamp’s got two of the best leaders and best people he’s ever had.”
Who knows? Maybe it will get late in the game against Texas A&M or Georgia and the two will think back to that day five years ago. If Hill audibles “2015” or “State,” Joyner could show the Aggies or Bulldogs what Dorman couldn’t stop.