Jamie Snider doesn’t know if he should be optimistic or worried.
The Loris coach’s roster includes just five returning starters on offense and, depending on the scheme, no more than six on defense. Considering that some of his returning players are sophomores, this is an unproven group.
“Right now it’s like a big puzzle,” he said. “And you’re putting the pieces of the puzzle together.”
One advantage for Snider’s squad is his quarterback, senior Gage Conner. Conner started for the Lions a year ago and also got some playing time as a sophomore.
“That’s huge for us,” Snider said, adding that Conner’s minutes should pay off. “He sees the field better. He understands what we want to get done better. He’s a smarter player, he’s a more experienced player and he’s a stronger player.”
The Lions are coming off a 4-6 season that ended in a first-round playoff loss to Wade Hampton. Offensively, Snider hopes to have a balanced attack that utilizes Conner’s arm and the speed of the Lions' running game.
“We have two options as a way to move the football, not just one,” Snider said. “At Loris, that’s what we want to be.”
One challenge for the Lions this season will be their offensive and defensive lines, which feature many new faces.
However, the defensive line is a quick group.
“It’s really about speed,” said senior defensive end Shamarr Jackson. “We’re an athletic D-line.”
The Lions are strong in their linebacker corps, led by seniors Jaylon McLeod and Jacob Black.
Snider points to Black as evidence of how players can shift positions over the course of a season. Last year, Black started the year as a safety but wound up playing inside linebacker at the end of the season.
“In a month now, we’ll see how this all plays out,” he said.
The Lions’ region schedule is always tough, but this year it’s particularly unforgiving. Dillon, the perennial powerhouse who reached the state title game last year, is there. So is Cheraw, a team expected to rank high in preseason polls. Aynor is coming off an 8-2 season and Marion’s youthful 2018 squad has matured. Lake City won’t be easy, either.
The Lions went 3-2 in region play last year, falling only to Aynor and Dillon. But they were losing to Cheraw and Lake City at halftime and they were tied with Marion 14-14 in the second quarter of that contest.
“Every week’s going to be a handful,” Snider said. “Every week you’ve got to come play. And if you don’t, it’s going to end up being a no playoff season for you.”