Athlete of Week: Brandon’s move paying off for Sharks

sjsoc-haywood-brandon (2)Haywood Brandon’s difficult decision to play high school sports his senior year is having a profound impact on both the St. James boys basketball and soccer programs and him personally.

After playing soccer year-round for the Charleston Battery Academy, Brandon gave up the golden opportunity to play pro soccer for the chance to be a Shark. Over the past seven months, he has helped lead his teams to first-ever appearances in the Class 3A Lower State championship games.

“It was tough to leave because the games are a lot more serious there, and the lifestyle and travel, it was an awesome experience,” said Brandon, who was voted the Mammy’s Kitchen Athlete of the Week for leading the Sharks’ playoff run. “But playing with my high school teammates, it’s like a brotherhood. These last few months are something I will remember forever.”

After St. James’ miracle run in basketball ended in the Lower State final, Brandon had only one day to make the transition from power forward to goalkeeper. He posted four straight shutouts to open the soccer season and lead St. James to the the Michael Nash Memorial Tournament title.

“I didn’t get a day off. We lost to Darlington, practiced the next day and had the tournament,” Brandon recalled. “Playing basketball helped me with my footwork and foot speed, but there’s really nothing that can help you transition into a soccer ball coming at you full speed.”

As it turned out, Brandon didn’t need much time to adjust. He posted shutouts in 17 of St. James’ 19 wins this season, including playoff openers against Gilbert and Hilton Head. It was that second-round victory that kicked off a two-day bus trip across that state that ended with a hard-fought 2-1 win over Aiken and a program first berth to the Lower State title game.

“We got back from Hilton Head about 3:30 a.m. (Saturday), left for Aiken at 1 p.m. the same day, and then our bus broke down,” Brandon recalled. “We had to wait for another bus and by the time we got there we had about 10 extra minutes to warm up. We did a great job of handling it.”

Now the Sharks face a familiar foe in region rival Myrtle Beach. The two teams split the regular-season series and St. James won the Nash showdown, but this one will be for all the marbles. Brandon hopes to keep his and his teammates’ amazing run alive for a state title bid.

“It’s going to be tough to beat them on their field because they are so good at home on the (artificial) turf,” Brandon said. “But we seem to be playing our best soccer at the right time and everyone is playing together as a unit. We’re just going to keep playing hard like we have been.”

Win or lose, Brandon has already had an incredible senior year. Although he hasn’t yet decided about whether he will continue to play soccer at the college level when he attends Clemson next fall, he has already made memories and high school records that will last for years to come.

Photo by Tyler Watkins

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