Marc Morris believes the newfound enthusiasm at Carolina Forest is about more than just him.
The Panthers’ first-year football coach was officially hired in March, took part in spring drills and then led his team throughout the summer seven-on-seven schedule. As the time went on his numbers continued to balloon. Player attendance figures approached and then surpassed triple digits.
On Friday, the first day of preseason practice for South Carolina High School League teams, Morris expects between 120 and 130 players on the Carolina Forest fields.
“I think everybody’s looking forward to a fresh start,” said Morris, one of three new Horry County coaches heading into the 2014 season. “To be honest with you, it doesn’t have anything to do with me. When you have some sort of change, there is excitement. But the kids are tired of not being successful.”
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The Panthers, coming off a 1-10 season, have yet to qualify for the Class AAAA playoffs since moving up to the state’s top division in 2008. They had the worst defense last year in South Carolina, regardless of class.
In short, there’s nowhere to go but up.
In many ways, the story is the same at St. James.
The Sharks have not had a winning record in a decade of varsity football and are 24-78 in that time. Interim head coach Robby Brown will be tasked with finding a system that improves upon the eight combined wins the team has in the past three seasons.
For Brown, thoughts of the past take a back seat to current responsibilities.
“There’s a lot of little stuff you have to do as far as ordering the jerseys, taking care of the field, parent meetings, eligibility – all the other stuff besides coaching,” he said. “I like to be organized, and there’s a lot to do.
“This is my 25th year. I’ve been around all this stuff and helping with parts of it. Being in charge of all of it is time consuming. It takes a little bit more time.”
The third area coach stepping into new shoes, North Myrtle Beach’s Blair Hardin, has expectations unlike the other two. The Chiefs had one of their best seasons in school history in 2013 and advanced to the second round of the Class AAA playoffs under former coach Perry Woolbright.
Hardin, like Morris, credited forces beyond his hire for increased numbers. He said the team has 100 players, including 65 freshmen and sophomores, expected for Friday’s practice.
“That’s due to the excitement of the last two years and what Coach Woolbright did,” Hardin said. “The last two years, the direction of the program, hopefully that’s exciting to the school and the players.”