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Carolina Forest’s Kyle Watkins scrambles in a game at Socastee this fall. Carolina Forest won 41-6. Photo by Janet Morgan/janet.morgan@myhorrynews.com

It took Carolina Forest football coach Marc Morris a lot less time than most everyone else to recognize Kyle Watkins’ potential.

For the vast majority of those around the state, the eye opener on the first-year starting quarterback didn’t come until Nov. 20. That night, the senior rushed for 281 yards and four touchdowns and threw for another 168 yards and two scores against eventual five-time Class 5A state champion Dutch Fork.

It was one of the best individual performances against the Silver Foxes in recent memory. Meanwhile, the 42 points the Panthers scored in that game equated to 45% of the scoring against the state powerhouse all season and was the most scored against Tom Knotts’ team since 2015, the season before its historic title run started.

“We knew it was going to be different than it was before,” Morris said. “But Kyle’s been a good football player for us for three years. He had an opportunity to touch the ball a little more as a quarterback. Something just clicked on this year. I don’t know if it was playing receiver going to quarterback or what. He was just a really good football player.”

Yes, Watkins was a good receiver as a sophomore and junior, when he caught 1,007 yards worth of passes and and seven touchdowns from Mason Garcia. This fall, however, his production skyrocketed after taking over for the future East Carolina quarterback.

Watkins passed for 792 yards and 11 touchdowns. His rushing numbers, however, were where he made opponents really pay.

He led the Panthers (7-2) and was second in the area among all ball carriers with 1,324 yards and a county-leading 22 scores. He reached the end zone in every game except one (a blowout victory over Socastee) and combined for at least three passing/rushing touchdowns in seven of the team’s nine contests.

“Especially at the end, I was getting really comfortable, wishing I had another year,” the one-and-done starter said. “Looking back at it, looking back at the film, I’m proud of myself.”

Over the last several weeks, it has become clear that Watkins will have opportunities to continue playing football at the next level. Hours before the Dutch Fork game, he received scholarship offers from Benedict and Newberry, and Morris is convinced other offers will come after the early signing period shakes out and colleges start to see what they’ll have to work with in 2021 as the NCAA carry-over and recruiting period returns closer to the norm.

Everyone initially believed any looks he’d get would be at receiver, but now that Watkins has got this type of film on his resume, schools are more than open to the idea of the three-sport star lining up behind center in college, too.

“That’s going to translate to somebody at the next level,” Morris said. “Somebody’s going to get a really special player. Kyle’s the best player I’ve ever had to not have [Division-I] offers by now. He would have something by now. He’s got the grades. All the character things are checked off.”

And now he’s got some jaw-dropping production to go along with it.

MYHORRYNEWS.COM ALL-COUNTY OFFENSIVE FOOTBALL TEAM

PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Kyle Watkins

School | Carolina Forest

Position | Quarterback

Grade | Senior

Year in review | After shifting from receiver as a senior, he led Horry County with 22 rushing touchdowns while running for 1,324 yards. Also threw for 792 yards and 11 scores, completing 62% of his pass attempts. 

Ryan Burger

School | Myrtle Beach

Position | Quarterback

Grade | Junior

Year in review | Area’s leading passer finished the season with 2,493 yards and 24 touchdowns while completing 150 of his 235 attempts. 

Nyliek Livingston

School | North Myrtle Beach

Position | Running back

Grade | Senior

Year in review | Led all players in rushing, racking up 1,454 yards while going over 100 yards in nine of the team’s 10 games and finished with 10 touchdowns.

Luke Janack

School | Carolina Forest

Position | Running back

Grade | Junior

Year in review | In his first year at the position at the varsity level, he ran for 1,164 yards and 17 touchdowns in only nine games.

Jaquan Dixon

School | Green Sea Floyds

Position | Running back

Grade | Senior

Year in review | In just six games this fall, Georgia State commit rushed for 875 yards and 14 touchdowns while averaging 7.9 yards per carry.

J.J. Jones

School | Myrtle Beach

Position | Receiver

Grade | Senior

Year in review | University of North Carolina commit led the team and area in receiving yards (967), receptions (54) and touchdowns (12).

Adam Randall

School | Myrtle Beach

Position | Receiver

Grade | Junior 

Year in review | High-profile recruit put up 46 receptions for 924 yards and nine touchdowns despite missing a full game ue and being limited in another due to injury.

Caleb Godfree

School | Carolina Forest

Position | Offensive line

Grade | Senior

Year in review | Three-year starter at left guard graded out at 85% for the season and led the Panthers’ high-powered offense with 82 pancake blocks. 

Jovonn Willard

School | North Myrtle Beach

Position | Offensive line

Grade | Junior

Year in review | Chiefs’ left tackle led a line that allowed only 11 sacks all season while grading out at 86% and chipping in 10 pancake blocks. 

Byrnes Britton

School | Aynor

Position | Offensive line

Grade | Senior

Year in review | Helped the Blue Jackets rush for 2,649 yards as a team and finish second in Region VII-3A while pulling in a 92% grade for the season. 

Matan Morovitz

School | Myrtle Beach

Position | Offensive line

Grade | Senior

Year in review | Seahawks’ left guard helped an offense that put up 4,112 total yards of offense despite multiple injuries at key positions throughout much of the year.

Sullivan Hardin

School | Myrtle Beach

Position | Kicker

Grade | Senior

Year in review | Connected on 48 of his 52 extra points and six of seven field goals en route to 66 points for his final year in a Myrtle Beach uniform.

COACH OF THE YEAR

Matt Reel

School | North Myrtle Beach

Season | 4th

Record | 9-1

Year in review | Reel’s team ran wild for the first nine games of the season, winning eight of those games by double digits and claiming the Region VI-4A crown. Once in the playoffs, a team that had never reached the Lower State title game in its first 51 years of football handedly won three games to advance to Columbia for its first championship appearance. Reel is 35-11 in his four seasons as the head coach in Little River, which is good enough for the third most wins and best winning percentage among any coach in school history.

Contact Charles D. Perry at 843-488-7236

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