For some time now, it’s been said “the path to a region title (in the former Region 6-4A, now Region 6-5A) runs through Sumter.” The notion remains true this season, the Gamecocks returning another strong squad capable of rolling to a league championship. Despite losing their top ground gainer, quarterback Zykeim Jackson is back after accounting for nearly 1,500 total yards and 11 touchdowns last season. Running back Da’jon Butts should pick up some of the slack for Sumter in the rushing department, this after going for 535 yards and nine touchdowns last year. Tackle machine Mac Mota returns as well, after a season in which he notched 113 tackles, an interception and three forced fumbles. Defensive back Melvin Lundy leads a ball-hawking secondary.
Contenders: Conway (8-5), South Florence (5-6)
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Assault charges levied against him now a thing of the past, will getting back to the sideline be part of longtime Conway football coach Chuck Jordan’s future? That question remains to be answered. However, this season there seems to be at least one certainty for the Tigers — these ‘Cats are darn good. Though losing record-setting quarterback Peyton Derrick to graduation, many pieces from last year’s squad return. Chief among those is a solid offensive line, featuring a trio of players — Raiqwon O’Neal, Lucas Partin and Gunner Britton — that will be playing on Saturdays starting next year. Defensive line also is a strength for Conway, led by sophomore Tonka Hemingway who already has offers from the like of Clemson, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina. Look for dual-threat Antonio Long to be a breakout star for the squad, able to impact the game either running the football or separating an opposing receiver from it. … Following an abnormal year by its standards, South Florence looks to return to prominence in Region 6-5A. Quarterback Austin Moore is back for his senior season, this after throwing for 1,683 yards and 16 touchdowns. Though his top targets from last year are gone, it helps having Tony McFadden back in the fold, the rising junior rushing for 914 yards and nine touchdowns during the 2017 campaign. Another junior in Michael Mason is expected to raise his stock this season as one of the state’s top defensive line prospects, this after racking up 106 total tackles last year. … Carolina Forest, Socastee and West Florence are likely to jockey for the final postseason spot awarded to the league. While youth will rule the day in Carolina Forest, a veteran bunch at Socastee hope to return to the postseason for the first time since 2014.