In many ways, Doug Illing’s second season at Socastee was set up for disappointment.
After inheriting a team that turned out to be one of the best in the state in 2013, Illing and his Braves aren’t just moving up to the state’s top class. They’re doing so without many of the stars who made the team so dynamic during consecutive 12-1 years that produced undefeated regular seasons and region titles.
“It’s a big question mark. That’s who we are right now,” Illing said. “We have a big question mark over our head. We don’t know who we are. We’re still finding out who we are. We’re finding out what our weaknesses are.”
It may be some time until Socastee figures out what all those are. And it may ultimately turn into a transition that takes more than one season to adjust to.
Simply look at what the Braves lost.
There was fullback Kyle Smith (now playing baseball at The Citadel), who rushed for a team-high 16 touchdowns and beat up on opposing lineman. Tailback Delano Walters (who walked on at Coastal Carolina) rushed for a team-high 1,469 yards while averaging an eye-popping 8.8 yards per carry and tacked on 13 touchdowns of his own.
And, oh yeah, arguably the most influential player in program history in former quarterback Hunter Renfrow.
Those three have dominated the conversation with the returning players, at least when it comes to outsiders.
“It gets a little annoying sometimes because they keep asking the same questions,” senior tight end Max Kjosa said. “I tell them the same thing. ‘I think we’re still going to do well.’ ”
Kjosa and Illing cited the same thing when it comes to the highly productive offense. Four of the team’s five offensive linemen will be back.
The replacements at those three key skill positions don’t lack experience in the option system. New quarterback Jordan Hodge has been running the system in one form or another for four seasons. New fullback Angelo Sauter is actually bigger than Smith, while position mate Buck Bacot showed last year he was more than capable part of the offense.
And Keyon Clora, the speed option, did some damage on the junior varsity team prior to getting the promotion.
“We know we have some big players to replace,” Hodge said. “But everybody’s just stepping in doing their job.”
Of course there are going to be some kinks.
Ball security was an issue during the team’s appearance in the CNB Kickoff Classic. This offense may also not have the dual home run threats that Renfrow and Walters provided en route to back-to-back trips to the third round of the state playoffs.
Either way, Socastee may be moving on up. That doesn’t mean the cupboards are bare.