All the offseason work has led to this.
On Friday, area high schools and their counterparts around the state can begin football practices for the 2019 season. And while development throughout the year will be key long term, these three weeks leading up to the first regular-season games on Aug. 23 will be crucial in determining who can and will hit the ground running.
In the blink of an eye, teams will be putting on their game jerseys and hoping for the best. Before they get there, though, five questions needs to be answered for the teams around Horry County.
WHO CAN HANDLE THE HYPE?
The bright lights of high school football here haven’t been this bright in quite some time.
Two Horry County programs are coming off state championship, and three of the top eight recruits in state for the Class of 2020 (according to 247Sports.com) are locals. What’s more, the nine teams are going to be playing their annual CNB Kickoff Classic scrimmages at Coastal Carolina’s revamped Brooks Stadium. The topper will be that as many as four or five of them could be included in the state’s preseason media polls when they are released later this month.
It would be naive to think that all of it won’t present for a few distractions along the way.
Handling all of that extra noise will be a monster task given that few programs here have had to deal with it. Frankly, many of them have had limited roles other than that of an underdog.
With everything that has transpired recently, coaches here will have a more difficult time selling that to their players in the coming weeks.
WHICH 1S V. 1S BATTLES WILL PRODUCE BEST RESULTS?
Coaches have different styles for what they do during the August practice sessions. Some drop the hammer on their players early and often while others slow-roll it a bit to ensure players aren’t too beat up before the season begins.
For just about all of them, though, the offensive and defensive starters are going to get their chances against one another. That in itself can produce for some action-packed practice sessions, especially when the two units are both about the same caliber.
One such square off we’ll be keeping an eye on will be at Carolina Forest, where the Panthers’ highly talented offense will be tested against a relatively young but productive defense. Coach Marc Morris has never been afraid of practice contact. It will be interesting to see how players on both sides of the ball respond to it as expectations have risen.
Others we’ll be watching closely: Conway’s offensive and defensive lines; Myrtle Beach’s air attack against its experienced defensive backs; and North Myrtle Beach’s returning linebacking corps against first-year starting quarterback Ramsey Lewis (more on him later).
HOW WILL MYRTLE BEACH’S NEW OFFENSIVE PERSONNEL GEL?
The Seahawks return high-profile quarterback Luke Doty, the South Carolina verbal commitment who played a huge role in last year’s state championship. However, Myrtle Beach will be replacing its top three receivers from last season — Da’Ron Finkley, Marcus Grissett and Wyatt Roach tallied 2,448 yards and 35 touchdowns — and multi-faceted running back Jermani Green, who had 1,500 total yards and 21 scores.
Coach Mickey Wilson has some serious talent coming in, namely receivers Austin Randall and J.J. Jones (both of whom already have NCAA Division-I offers). Tailbacks Rayshad Feaster and Jaylen Sparkman have also had their moments, be it in games last season or during spring ball.
However, what the group has yet to do is assemble in full in pads.
“This group is not battle tested,” Wilson said. “Some of them are, but some of them aren’t. …We’re going to have to see where they fit.”
One additional benefit Myrtle Beach will have is that it doesn’t play its first game until Aug. 30 at Hanahan, so the Seahawks have four weeks to bring it all together before a scoreboard matters.
LEWIS’ TIME TO SHINE?
A year ago, North Myrtle Beach tailback Ramsey Lewis led the Chiefs in rushing yards. Even when he wasn’t putting up great numbers, he was a threat more often than not.
Beginning Friday, the Chiefs coaching staff believes he becomes a constant threat.
The senior will start the season as the team’s primary quarterback, and he has the speed and experience to run the offense coach Reel believes will keep this team winning.
“It’s about getting back to what we want to do and getting back to that triple option game,” Reel said. “We’ll move him around. People are going to have to know where he is every single play.”
There are likely going to be some growing pains. It’s nearly impossible to transition from the type of quarterback Cason McClendon was the past two years to what Lewis will ultimately become. And North Myrtle Beach has just three weeks to put it altogether before Conway and a defensive line that may be the best in the state shows up for the season opener.
HOW FAST CAN CONWAY RIGHT THE SHIP?
Conway’s 3-7 record last year was a product of a whole bunch of various things that went wrong.
But for everything that went wrong, two issues got under coach Carlton Terry’s skin.
“Turnovers were an issue,” Terry said. “Penalties were an issue.”
The Tigers will be returning six or seven starters on offense (depending on which set they use), and in the next several weeks, they are going to be charged with cutting down on mistakes. Practices aren’t necessarily going to more or less intense; but they are going to be more directed toward that goal.
Terry shaved down the playbook some to accommodate for new faces, including another first-year starter at quarterback, and he’s hoping that less on the players’ plates will allow them to better focus on the task at hand without the miscues that hurt time and again a year ago.