High School Football

Myrtle Beach to face state's best in Byrnes

Byrnes' road to national prominence as a football power began with a trip down I-20 to Louisiana just to fill an open date.

The Rebels' journey began in 2002 when they needed an 11th game. Then-coach Bobby Bentley scoured the Internet and found that Evangel Christian in Shreveport also needed a game.

Though Byrnes lost that game, 21-10, the 13-hour trek proved to be the first step in a process that turned the tiny town of Duncan, barely a blip on a South Carolina map, into the home of one of the nation's elite high school football programs.

``Even though we didn't win, that was what started it,'' said Bentley, now the team's associate head coach and district athletic director. ``It's amazing how the story, from a national standpoint, started from that game.

``Our program was not designed for [national attention], it's just happened.

We lw-3don't make apologies for that now. But it wasn't intended to be that way. It was intended to be the best in the state and as we grew, it just happened.''

After that trip, the Rebels went on to win four straight state titles (and titles in six of the last seven years), produce multiple recruits for major programs, earn a No. 1 ranking in last season's USA Today preseason poll, play a couple of nationally televised games and enjoy other benefits to their success.

When the season started, these Rebels, who play the Myrtle Beach Seahawks at 8 p.m. tonight in Duncan, were picked second in the USA Today Super 25 poll and in other polls.

Byrnes is a program that other Palmetto State schools hope to emulate.

``They're definitely the model that everyone in the state is going by,'' Myrtle Beach coach Mickey Wilson said.

The Rebels don't just want to be a team that has a few good years at the top, but a program whose success is measured in decades.

Head coach Chris Miller said it is tough ``trying to keep the program at the level it is at this point. We're looking from the little league and all the way up so we have the players ready to go at each level.''

This success wasn't always there.

Athletic director Billy Young has been at the school for 22 years and saw the transformation.

``I've seen it from when we were mediocre to almost hitting rock bottom to in the last nine years that we've almost gotten to the top of the mountain and staying there,'' he said.

Bentley, who left the program in 2007 to coach his alma mater Presbyterian College, but returned to the Rebels after two seasons, won only three games in his first two seasons as the Rebels' coach.

There was talk about looking for another coach. Then he installed a pass-happy offensive scheme that has become something that other coaches long to learn and use.

That, though, wasn't how the Rebels became a title-winning, nationally-ranked program.

``It's not about schemes, it's about investing in these kids' lives,'' Bentley said. ``A lot of coaches can build schemes, and I thought that was the way to go about building a program, but I don't think schemes are the answer now.''

And it isn't just the coaches' involvement in their players' lives, but in kids who aren't even their players yet.

Players in the little league program, where all teams are Rebels in different colored uniforms, run a simpler form of the Rebels' offense. They even compete in their own passing league.

The middle school teams also run a similar offense.

Because of the success and the level that the program has gone to continue its winning ways, the expectations are there.

``There's a lot of pride in players wanting to maintain what we've got and to keep this national prestige,'' Young said.

``I am surprised [by the national exposure],'' Miller said. ``All the hard work that the kids have put into the program, it's something special for them being recognized for it. I'm surprised that a little town and high school football can go to this level.''

Key matchup

Byrnes has one of the top defensive fronts in the state, which means the Seahawks offensive line will have to play well for Myrtle Beach to have a chance at the win. Here's a look at the two lines that will battle:

MYRTLE BEACH OFFENSIVE LINE

LT Lucas Britt (6-0, 190)

RT James Power (6-3, 227)

C George Kandris (6-1, 197)

LG Jason Rexroad (6-4, 262)

RG Jake Painter (5-11, 200) or Jennings Huffling (5-11, 230) or Devante Simmons (6-1, 251)

BYRNES DEFENSIVE LINE

DE Corey Miller (6-5, 217)

DE Brandon Willis (6-3, 253)

DL Roland Johnson (6-1, 245)

DL Kevin Slusser (5-10, 280)

DL Danzell Collins (6-2, 235)

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