When the South Carolina High School League altered the offseason practice schedules for sanctioned teams, there were mixed emotions.
Coaches worried their stars would start to specialize on one sport. Schools wondered if the staff would be overworked. And athletics directors didn’t know if they’ve had the room to accommodate all of their teams using the facilities at the same time.
For football, though, it was different.
Seven-on-seven tournaments, linemen camps and summer weight routines were already the norm for the majority of South Carolina teams. So the SCHSL allowing year-round practices for football (save for a couple windows of down time) meant virtually nothing to that sport.
“It really didn’t change anything we do football wise,” Conway athletics director and football coach Chuck Jordan said. “For some of the other sports, it did.
“You can do certain things at certain times. We were already doing those things, just in a different way. … One of the biggest things is we do it because the other guy is doing it. Nobody wants to get outworked. But we’re year-round now, just about in everything.”
That said, area coaches are hitting the home stretch of their summer practice and weight schedules. In less than two weeks, a mandated off week will precede the start of fall camp, meaning coaches are running out of time to implement new schemes prior to fall camp.
Starting July 27, players are subject to a “closed season,” no organized practices, weight sessions or even film study. Coaches maximize that time by using it for logistics – getting uniforms lined up and distributed, putting final touches on travel schedules and everything else that goes into running a program. Many also use it for youth clinics and visits with college coaches.
They have less than one full week to get all that done before Aug. 1, when the South Carolina High School League allows teams across the state to start fall camps.
Needless to say, it’s a whirlwind of information, planning and stress.
Top non-region football games
Fans starting to prepare for the high school season should probably mark these games on their calendars.
A number of early non-region contests may not necessarily mean much in terms of playoff chances in some cases, but they could be an indication of which teams are still around in mid-November. If nothing else, they’ll provide some entertainment and plenty of backstories.
• North Myrtle Beach at Dillon (Aug. 22) | First-year Chiefs coach Blair Hardin will be leading a rejuvenated North Myrtle Beach team into the home of the school with as much football success as anyone in the state the last five years. Dillon has won back-to-back state titles and three of the last five. The Wildcats also played for another and qualified for the state semifinals the other two years in that span. Sure, North Myrtle Beach is in a higher classification, but a win against Dillon would resonate statewide.
• St. James at Loris (Aug. 22) | The last two times these teams played Loris won by a combined four points. Some of that had to do with now-former St. James coach Mark Fischer’s style of offense and some stingy defense from both ends. The Sharks have a new coach in Robby Brown after a less-than-routine search, and he said after he was announced that the offense was going to change. On the flip side, Loris will be entering the season again with a high ceiling. Most of the impact players from last year’s third-round playoff team return.
• Carolina Forest at Fort Dorchester (Aug. 29) | The Panthers and first-year coach Marc Morris could easily win their season opener at home against Darlington in Week 0. Darlington isn’t exactly loaded, and the belief is that Carolina Forest quarterback Will Brunson will be slinging it around by then with ease after a minor hand surgery this summer. It will be a Week 1 trip to Fort Dorchester, though, that could let Panther fans know if it’s time to get excited. Fort Dorchester, also a Big 16 program, showed it belonged in the class the last two years by crushing Carolina Forest 62-14 (2013) and 41-21 (2012).
• Myrtle Beach at West Florence (Sept. 4) | The defending Class AAA state champs are going to have the target firmly on their backs again this season. The Seahawks have done well against West Florence to date, winning all four games between the schools. However, this game could show how ready Mickey Wilson’s team is for the rigors of expectations. Myrtle Beach will have to play area Region VI-AAAA teams Socastee, Carolina Forest and Conway in the three weeks after playing the Knights.
• Conway at Socastee (Sept. 5) | Technically, this matchup of renewed region rivals will be a non-region game. Still, both teams are likely to be scraping for every point toward the playoff system they can grab. The new six-team Region VI-AAAA will send four teams to the postseason, and with both Conway and Socastee playing four teams from smaller classes, a win here could be the difference maker. Need more incentive? Depending on how the first two games of the year go for the Tigers, Conway coach Chuck Jordan (currently 257 career wins) could move into 10th place in the all-time South Carolina record books for victories.
Quarterback to watch
The area’s newest football program is already garnering some attention via its quarterback.
North Myrtle Beach Christian’s Bobby Gentile was selected to participate in USA Football’s developmental camp next week in Maryland. The six-day program begins Monday and includes 180 players from across the country who are competing for a spot on the U.S. team that will play Canada next February in Dallas.
The 6-foot, 160-pounder threw for 644 yards while running for another 491 last season for the Stallions. He combined for 15 touchdowns and didn’t thrown an interception. His 4.2 grade-point average is also making him attractive.
He’s already visited with coaches from Yale and Georgia Tech, and has another with Georgia Southern, according to his father, Bobby.
North Myrtle Beach Christian, a member of the South Carolina Association of Christian Schools, will be playing it second full season and first year of 11-man football this fall.
Contact IAN GUERIN at email@example.com.