FLORENCE, S.C. — It’s still hard to believe sometimes, Hartsville High linebacker Justin Abraham admitted.
The senior Red Fox captain was named to Shrine Bowl earlier this season as one of the top players in the state of South Carolina.
“It’s really something that came as a surprise to me,” Abraham said. “I was so focused on our football team that we have this year, it just kind of popped up and surprised me. ...
“I can really say it’s just God-given (ability). I never saw myself being in the position I’m in now.”
In more ways than one. At the end of his sophomore season, Abraham was used along the defensive line but was mainly playing as an offensive lineman.
During that following spring, Abraham started to fill out a little more and really came into his own, Hartsville coach Jeff Calabrese said.
“That January, we started testing him on his lateral movements and his straight-line speed and his power cleans (lifts),” Calabrese said. “And we noticed just how off the charts they started going. I think he ran a 4.5 40-yard dash, and his shuttle run was just amazing.
“And we started sitting around going, ‘Hey, we’ve got to get this kid on his feet and let him run around.’ The rest is kind of history.”
Abraham had a breakout junior campaign after finishing fourth in the Pee Dee with 116 total tackles and is well on his way to eclipsing that this season. He leads the Red Foxes with 115 tackles, 5½ sacks and 12 tackles for losses as one of the team’s defensive leaders and playmakers.
It’s a remarkable rise in a short time considering he’d never really played the position before.
“It was like learning to play football all over again,” Abraham said. “It was about learning reads, knowing where my eyes needed to be, getting my feet under me and knowing how to get from point A to point B and not being clumsy.
“I had to jump on the train pretty fast.”
Abraham credits former Hartsville middle linebacker Montrez Williams with helping him learn a great deal about the position and getting comfortable in his new role quickly.
“I give him a lot of props for what I know now,” Abraham said. “He taught me the mentality and the mindset I needed to how to read a guard to hitting people. He taught me how to be a linebacker from both the mental standpoint and the physical standpoint.”
Moving from offensive guard to linebacker helped in that transition as well, Abraham said, as he was a little more familiar with what that position was supposed to do looking at it from the other side.
“You’ve got to make that first step and that read,” he said. “Once it clicked, it stayed in.”
It was a process that came very naturally, Calabrese said, and starting pretty much in spring practices before his junior season.
“He was like a sponge soaking everything up,” the Red Fox coach said. “He kept getting a little better and a little better every day, and finally it was just very natural to him. ...
“Any time you take a great kid that wants to get better and shows up and has a great attitude, it’s not that hard. He was able to make a huge impact last year, and that’s continued this year.”
Now Abraham hopes to help lead the young Red Foxes on another strong playoff run, starting at 7:30 p.m. Friday against South Aiken in Kelleytown Stadium. The Red Foxes (7-3) are riding a four-game winning streak with big victories over Marlboro County, Wilson and North Myrtle Beach during that stretch.
“Our team is starting to see what it’s capable of doing,” he said. “That gives us a lot of hope and faith going forward.”