As most of the world seeks the proverbial fountain of youth, Doug Illing is rejoicing in the fact his Socastee football team has another year of life under its belt.
“We feel like we are three weeks into the season in terms of our install,” said Illing, going into his fifth year at the helm. “Our guys are confident in knowing what to do, and where to go and where to lineup both offensively and defensively.
“Now comes the part of making plays.”
After going 3-7 overall (1-4 in Region 6-5A) last season, Socastee missed the playoffs for the second consecutive year.
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A year older and wiser, the group is intent on getting back to the postseason, thanks to a roster chock full of grizzled veterans.
At the top of that list is quarterback Hunter Illing, back for a final season at the school — as well as his last campaign working under his uncle, Doug. For the 2016 season, he completed nearly 58 percent of his passes for 1,924 yards and 12 touchdowns, becoming the all-time passing leader at Socastee.
It isn’t enough to just be good Socastee players … we need them to be good football players. We are going to play some good football teams, and we are going to have to meet the level they are.
Socastee football coach Doug Illing
According to the Braves head man, it is a wonder what a simple year of work has done to his nephew’s football I.Q.
“The game has really slowed down for him,” Doug Illing said. “He’s able to see things more clearly, able to make better reads pre-snap, he’s trusting people around him and getting the ball out quick. We’re still teaching him to be careful and not to want the big play all the time, though, urging him to just take what the defense will give you.”
If given the time, Hunter Illing should have more than his share of options to select from.
Edward Tucker led the team in rushing a season ago, going for 650 yards and six touchdowns. Dashaun Myers will compliment him in the Braves backfield, the senior rushing for 511 yards and six touchdowns last year.
With the departure of Aeneas Green and Malachi McClendon to graduation, Devin Stamp should get his share of targets, along with vertical threats like Kenney Solomon and Carson Stout.
Eric Heins and Dwayne Spady will anchor the Socastee offensive line. As for who will line up beside them, that is still a work in progress, according to Doug Illing.
“We’re developing some new bodies,” he said. “We have two guys up front, but there are other guys who could work their way into some playing time.”
Among those jockeying for starting spots include Scout Stewart, Daniel Dawkins, Nick Walters, C.J. Armstrong and Walker Todd.
While they may be asked to contribute on offense, Armstrong and Todd truly excel on the defensive side of the ball.
Todd had 71 total tackles a season ago from his spot on the Socastee defensive line, good for second on the team. As for Armstrong, the sophomore brought down 60 opposing ball carriers.
Said Doug Illing: “They’re more experienced, bigger, stronger and more confident. Now we must find a couple bodies to join them on the defensive line.”
The Braves’ defensive unit is seeking redemption after being ripped apart a season ago, opponents averaging 41 points per game against them.
Sophomore Marvin Bryant is a proven commodity at the linebacker spot, notching 68 tackles in his first season at the varsity level. On the back end, three players that intercepted passes are back — Tucker and Solomon with three apiece, and Nick Carnucci with two.
Coach Illing believes there still is another level for each of those players to take their game, hoping the group flashes its potential during the coming football campaign.
“It isn’t enough to just be good Socastee players … we need them to be good football players,” the Socastee head man said. “We are going to play some good football teams, and we are going to have to meet the level they are at.”
Coach: Doug Illing (149-85 career, 23-22 in four years at Socastee)
2016 record: 3-7, 1-4 Region VI-5A
Key players: Hunter Illing (Sr., QB), Eddie Tucker Jr. (Sr., RB/DB), Dashaun Myers (Sr., ATH), Devin Stamp (Sr., RB/LB), Walker Todd (Sr., DL)
The word: Times have been a bit tough for Socastee in recent seasons, but if there is a year for the Braves' fortunes to turn it is this one. A talented Socastee backfield led by Illing, Myers and Tucker will have explosive potential, but how far this team will go will likely rest in the defense's hands. Teams ran roughshod through the unit last season, scoring an average of 41 points per contest. The return of defensive lineman Walker Todd and linebacker Marvin Bryant should help pick up some of the slack.