In his first year as head football coach at North Myrtle Beach, Matt Reel set all kinds of school records — first undefeated regular season, first outright region title, highest-ever No. 2 state ranking.
Now comes the hard part — the encore.
Despite raising the bar with a school-best 12-1 campaign in his inaugural season, Reel and the Chiefs appear more than ready for the challenge of another record run. Sure, the Chiefs lost three key players who contributed greatly to last season’s success.
Gone are Region Player of the Year and running back Kered Class, fellow North-South All-Star and defensive leader Kwame Livingston and two-way Shrine Bowler Tyler Gore. But North Myrtle Beach also returns a team loaded with talent, teeming with confidence and hungry to go out and prove that last season’s success was not a one-hit wonder.
“Losing these players does not change what we will do as a team,” said Reel, who served as the Chiefs’ JV head coach for the majority of players who now occupy his roaster. “We will still play a pressuring style of defense and a spread triple-option offense with the ability to put the ball in the air to our skill guys anytime that we need to.”
Operating Reel’s shotgun triple-option attack is seasoned senior signal-caller Cason McClendon, a third-year starter who earned all-region honors last season for putting up some big numbers.
McClendon piled up more than 2,000 yards of total offense (1,963 passing yards for 26 touchdowns to only nine interceptions, and 121 rushing yards for six TDs).
“Experience is one of the biggest things in high school football,” said McClendon, who has a 16-2 record as the starter with both losses coming in the third round of the playoffs. “That’s definitely going to help us out a lot. We’ve got the makings of a great offense.”
McClendon has plenty of weapons around him to keep the Chiefs’ offense firing on all cylinders. Wide receiver Naseem Harrison returns and Derrien Holmes is expected to see more targets. Junior running backs Ramsey Lewis and Zyon Belle, who were promoted from the JV ranks last season, are in line to take over the rushing duties for Class.
Reel’s biggest concern is the offensive line, which lost three senior starters. Center Hayden Vest, guards Michael Bennett and Malachi Black, and tackles Paul Gerald, Marcelous Livingston and Curtis Wolfe will be “critical to our success on offense,” he said.
The Chiefs lost six starters on defense, including the entire linebacker corps. That unit will be anchored by senior Marcelous Livingston, who played defensive end for the Chiefs last year. All-region safety Derrien Holmes leads a secondary that was second to none last year, and a deep and experienced defensive line should provide “leadership and consistency to help the younger group of linebacker,” Reel said.
“Our biggest strength is going to be our D-line,” said Livingston, an all-region defender who racked up 45 tackles, including 17.5 for losses, and 10 sacks last season. “We always have a really good D-line. … That will help everybody else.”
Coincidentally, North Myrtle Beach’s youngest unit might be its biggest strength. Sophomore place kicker and punter Zane Smith broke several school records at a program that produced Minnesota Vikings kicker Ryan Quigley and former South Carolina standout Daniel Mitchell. He scored 91 points (10 of 12 field goals, 61 of 63 PATs) and averaged more than 38 yards per punt.
The Chiefs have little time to prepare for their first of many big tests this season with a Week 0 road showdown with Class 5A power Conway. The Chiefs’ new Region 6-4A schedule also sees a step up in competition as state power Hartsville and Darlington join a region that also includes rival Myrtle Beach, Marlboro County and Wilson.
A region title repeat would be one heck of an encore for Reel and the Chiefs.