North Myrtle Beach (11-2)
Last season was a historic one for the kids in Little River, setting a new program high mark for wins to go along with a trip to the Lower State 4A semifinal round. After earning a share of the Region 7-4A title last year, a strong North Myrtle Beach side returns a number of pieces that contributed to such a deep run. The Chiefs are loaded on the offensive side of the football, returning quarterback Cason McClendon along with the team’s top backs and receiver from a year ago. Brothers Kwame and Marcelous Livingston anchor a strong North Myrtle Beach defensive line, doing their part to allow a swift North Myrtle Beach back seven to swarm to the football.
Contenders: Myrtle Beach (9-2), Marlboro County (5-6)
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North Myrtle Beach stands above the league to start the season, but the gap between it and its closest Region 7-4A foes is tenuous at best. Before it was upset by Marlboro County in a wild 56-55 affair on the final week of the season, Myrtle Beach seemed to have a region title well in hand. Instead, the loss created a three-way tie atop the conference, with tiebreakers swinging toward the Chiefs and Bulldogs, rather than the kids in green and gold. A young group of Seahawks — particularly on defense — will receive a baptism by fire to start the season, playing perennial powerhouses in Byrnes and Charlotte Christian (N.C.). Look for an experienced set of skill players on offense featuring quarterback Lawson Cribb along with receivers Daron Finkley and Chunk Grissett to key things early. … Similarly, Marlboro County will use a tough early slate to prepare it for a run at the Region 7-4A crown. Last season, the Bulldogs relied heavily on running back Dylven Covington to shoulder the load. Finding talent has never been a problem for coach Dean Boyd, so expect him to find several capable contributors by the team’s season opener against Carvers Bay. The three-game round robin between the three teams should again be a determining factor in how the conference plays out. … After the abrupt resignation of former head coach Thomas Balkcom, former Ridge View offensive coordinator Derek Howard takes the reins of a talented, yet underachieving Wilson squad. Joining the Tigers in breaking in a new coach is St. James, which lured North Carolina high school football coaching legend Joey Price to Murrells Inlet. He hopes to begin a turnaround for the football program after a winless 2016 season.