Mickey Wilson was getting called a cheater again.
The Myrtle Beach football coach had just benefitted from another well-known player who decided the Doug Shaw Memorial Stadium grass was greener than his past school. And the onslaught wasn’t just coming from Socastee fans upset over J.J. Jones’ very public transfer into city limits.
Chatter came from fans at North Myrtle Beach and Conway and Carolina Forest. In the past, players who had spent time at those schools had moved into the Seahawks’ attendance zones, some of them less than coy about the fact that it was for athletics purposes.
Jones, a top-flight football and basketball player, was initially cleared, then suspended for a game while the legitimacy of his transfer was reviewed, then ultimately cleared again after his family hired an attorney. All the while, the allegations of impropriety were swirling.
“I know we’re not,” Wilson said, speaking directly to claims that Myrtle Beach recruits players from other programs. “When you are fortunate enough to have the success that we’ve had here, that’s something that comes along with it. The Dutch Forks of the world, the Dillons of the world, the Myrtle Beaches of the world — you’re going to hear outside noise that’s untrue. You sort of laugh it off and do what you need to do.”
Jones’ case was so well known not only because of coverage — MyHorryNews.com spent days researching the transfer and published multiple articles about it — but also because of social media. In the spring, he announced on Twitter that he was changing schools before he had even finished the academic year at Socastee.
Right around the same time, a physically developed junior who enrolled at Myrtle Beach a year prior was about to walk into spring practice for the first time. Not long after that, a quarterback from just a few miles to the south transferred in to the program. And on the first day of fall camp, a linebacker who had success at an Upstate Class 4A school officially did the same with next to no warning.
There was little more than a peep.
On Thursday, when the Seahawks play host to North Myrtle Beach in the second round of the state playoffs, Darius Hough, Ryan Burger and Kenny Byrd are all slated to start a game for at least their second high school. They are products of diverse family situations and informed choices, some in and others out of their control.
To say that the successful banner of Myrtle Beach athletics and the football program in particular didn’t play a role would be naive. But does that equate to breaking the rules?
UNDER THE RADAR?
Well in advance of the 2019 season opener at Hanahan on Aug. 30, everyone knew that University of South Carolina verbal commitment Luke Doty was the focal point of this year’s team.
He was an Elite 11 quarterback camp selection, and later a natural pick for the Palmetto Champions Class 4A Lower State Back of the Year, the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas and as a finalist for the South Carolina Mr. Football Award. As such, few outside the Seahawk program even paid attention to who his backup was.
Myrtle Beach also had a defense that finished the regular season as the top-ranked unit in the classification in terms of points per game allowed and had one of the most productive special teams in the state. It allowed sophomore signal-caller Ryan Burger to go quietly about his business after moving north from Waccamaw.
Playing mostly end-of-game minutes, he’s passed for 300 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Until Doty went down with an injury last week, few even knew Burger’s name.
They have, however, gotten to know Hough and Byrd.
Hough, a receiver, splashed onto the scene in the nationally televised victory against Carolina Forest on Sept. 20 when he caught five passes for 105 yards and four touchdowns. Two weeks later, Byrd, a middle linebacker, became the team’s leading tackler and kept a grip on it with what’s ended up as a streak of nine consecutive games recording double digits in that statistical category.
He’s also put up five sacks, four forced fumbles, four interceptions and was named to the Touchstone Energy Cooperatives Bowl roster alongside linebacking mate Shedrick Pointer.
And, yet, no one has ever given him any grief after he transferred from York, where he recorded 109 tackles last year.
“I think it’s because I didn’t really say anything to nobody,” Byrd said. “I kept to myself.”
Byrd’s father accepted a job in the area over the summer. The family’s move was never questioned by Horry County Schools.
Hough was born in Myrtle Beach. He said he and his mother originally moved to the Midlands when he was 7 years old. He briefly came back to the Grand Strand in fourth grade, only to return to the Columbia area the following school year.
He spent his freshman year at Irmo High School, then transferred to nearby Gray Collegiate for the start of his sophomore year, with hopes of basketball success in a budding program alongside any potential academic goals. Before he had finished that school year, he and his mother returned to Myrtle Beach again.
“I wanted a fresh start. I went [to Gray] for basketball and didn’t have the season I wanted,” Hough said. “I didn’t even play football [during his junior season at Myrtle Beach]. But I wanted to be a part of something special. I was born in Myrtle Beach. Eventually, I knew that I wanted to come back and be a Seahawk.”
Hough’s transfer was never questioned by Horry County Schools.
Last winter, he averaged 10 points and three rebounds per game for the Myrtle Beach basketball team, one he intends to suit up for again as a senior. Entering Friday’s game against North Myrtle Beach, he’s leading the Seahawks in receiving yards and second in receptions and touchdowns.
ABSORBING THE TALK
Blythewood football coach Jason Seidel temporarily became the poster child for the recruiting conversation in August and September.
According to The State Newspaper, Seidel was disciplined by Richland School District Two after documentation showed he attempted to convince players at nearby Ridge View to switch schools and then attempted to cover up his actions. No player actually transferred to Blythewood, but Seidel was suspended for a game.
It was a rare instance in which coaches and players at differing public high schools had been formally linked. That’s important to understand, as many have lobbed similar accusations at Wilson over the years.
It happened when Tyler Keane and Kyle Belack transferred from Carolina Forest, Cortez Brown came over from Conway, and most recently when Jones switched from neighboring Socastee, igniting a nasty war of words between fans at both schools.
And yet, through all those transfers, nothing more than rumors have ever swirled regarding the school changes. Wilson has never been disciplined by the district, nor has he been investigated by the South Carolina High School League (although the SCHSL openly defers to individual districts in such cases).
He admits he has heard some of the soft tosses from opposing fans from time to time, and it’s an opportunity for him to practice what he preaches.
“I really don’t pay attention to it. What matters is what happens in our locker room and between those lines,” Wilson said. “I know people are going to say whatever. That’s part of football. I tell our kids all the time you have to ignore the noise. That’s the only thing that matters.”
That fact that Myrtle Beach has continued to plug in kids who sometimes began their academic and athletic careers elsewhere and then continued to win has fueled accustations. No one would care as much if the Seahawks were getting drilled week after week or better transfers weren’t producing.
That’s not the case.
At one point, Keane held the state record for most touchdown passes in a game and threw for 4,400 yards between his junior and senior seasons. Belack jumped in for 2014 and caught 1,200 yards and 18 touchdowns worth of passes. Brown piled up 98 tackles as a junior on defense and then switched to offense, where he had 749 yards and nine touchdowns as a receiver in 2015.
This year, Jones has 533 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns in just seven regular-season games — a limited number given the one-game suspension while he was being cleared and then the last two while he’s been dealing with an elbow injury. Throughout, he’s picked up college scholarship offers from schools in four of the five largest football conferences.
For every one of those transfers that worked out in Myrtle Beach’s favor, though, there is another player or parent who believed they would come in and become a star, only to see limited action because someone else was better.
In fact, that leads to an axiom that Wilson will not break, before or during a player wearing one of his uniforms.
THE WINNING EFFECT
Tim Christy, the Myrtle Beach baseball coach and football assistant, dropped a line a while back that outsiders can choose not to believe — thanks to some of the high-profile transfers’ success.
“We attract,” Christy said. “We don’t recruit.”
He wasn’t necessarily wrong, but he also wasn’t right.
Every high school in the area has benefitted from athletic transfers, regardless of reason. St. James and Carolina Forest baseball, Socastee tennis, Myrtle Beach Christian Academy basketball, North Myrtle Beach wrestling and Conway basketball have all had notable late additions. And the list goes on.
But football draws more attention. And Myrtle Beach football gets even more after three state titles in the last decade.
When J.J. Jones posted his announcement on Twitter in the spring, the response was palpable. Recruiting services in two sports believe he has considerable college prospects, and someone like that wasn’t going to struggle to find playing time at just about any high school in South Carolina. He received his first Power Five football offer before he ever played a game for Myrtle Beach.
However, any post-transfer discussions between Mickey Wilson and J.J.’s father, Jon — or any other parent over the years — have had a clear directive.
“One rule I have that’s hard and fast, I don’t discuss playing time or playing status with parents. I have done that since I’ve been head coach,” Wilson said. “I will talk to a kid about it. But I will never talk to a parent about playing. If you open that door, the next moment you’re going to have every parent in there talking about it.”
That goes for parents whose children grow up in the city’s youth programs or others coming in from another high school.
For Hough and Byrd, especially, it wasn’t even an available topic beforehand. Hough had given up football after he left Gray Collegiate, believing he would never don pads again.
Byrd’s family situation happened so fast that he enrolled at Myrtle Beach less than 24 hours before the start of fall practices on Aug. 2. Wilson had a proverbial 10-second head start, quickly reaching out to former Marlboro County head coach-turned-York head coach Dean Boyd to check up on what was walking through the northeast gate at Doug Shaw that first day.
On the flip side, Byrd’s familiarity with his new school was similarly lacking.
“I didn’t know anything about them until the state [championship last fall]. I didn’t really hear much about this school,” he said. “I saw them at a couple of 7-on-7s over the summer. My dad got a job change in this area, so we decided this was the best option. I didn’t think it was going to be an immediate impact. I thought it was going to be a longer process. But I fit right in.”