Socastee had to replace half its roster.
The Braves played most of 2017 with fewer than 30 players. When 13 of those athletes graduated, it left coach Doug Illing searching for ways to restock the cupboard.
“We lost all our skill guys offensively,” Illing said. “So we’ll replace our quarterback, running back and four receivers. … However, we’ve got a talented group that’s working at it. So we’re really excited about what we’ve got replacing them. They’ve learned from a great bunch of guys that have graduated.”
Managing the Socastee offense will be quarterback Seth McKinney, who spent two years on the JV team and got some playing time last year behind starter Hunter Illing.
“He knows our offense really well,” he said. “We’re really excited about where he’s at and the potential that he has.”
A key weapon for the Braves will be speedy Kenney Solomon, who will likely see time in a variety of positions, including wide receiver, kick returner and defensive back. The Braves will also have senior Desmond Grant at running back. The receiving corps will feature JJ Jones, Carson Stout and Khaleb Scoggins.
“There’s a lot of talent out there,” Illing said. “I don’t think it’s going to be a let down. It’s just going to be new.”
One plus for the Braves is that their region no longer includes Sumter, which dominated the region in recent years. Playing Sumter also meant hours of travel time. St. James, which sits just down the road on S.C. 707, will replace Sumter in the region.
“There’s going to be a lot less traveling,” Illing said. “That’s for sure.”
The inclusion of St. James in the region also adds some intrigue to the annual rivalry match between the schools.
“Whether it’s a preseason scrimmage, 7-on-7, conference championship, last game of the year, it’s still going to be a competitive football game,” Illing said. “You can throw the records out. … It’s a good rivalry that we’ve had. Just now [there] happens to be a little more at stake.”
CJ Armstrong, a senior who plays defensive tackle and tight end, said players are stronger and faster than they were a year ago.
“We have grown a lot in the weight room this year,” he said. “We have gotten a lot more speed back and we’ve really matured as a team. Even though we’re younger, we’re pretty mature as a team.”
With so many new personnel, the team is still figuring out its strengths and the balance of its running and passing games. Still, Illing said, his goal doesn’t change with the roster.
“We expect to win,” he said.