When Jimmy Longerbeam took over at Loris in 2007, he knew the best was yet to come.
"I knew my first two years we were going to get our heads beat in, to be very honest with you, and we did. I thought last year we could win five or six games and we did. ... We are kind of where we were hoping to be," Longerbeam said.
A junior-laden team that went 6-4 and narrowly missed the playoffs in 2009 enters this season with 24 seniors, 20 juniors and high expectations to rack up wins and restore the Lions to the limelight.
In addition to his most talented roster to date, Longerbeam has a revamped coaching staff that features holdovers Jack Jordan and Gene Daughtery, former Coastal Carolina offensive coordinator Jamie Snider, former Chants Adrain Grady and Patrick Martin and former Socastee standouts Jon Greene, who played at CCU, and Terrance Butler, who played at Presbyterian.
"They are absolutely perfect role models for our kids," Longerbeam said of the former college players on his staff. "Some of the guys have come from the same area our kids have come from. They've gone off to college and got their degrees, now they are back, contributing, helping with the kids."
At the heart of the Lions' wing-T/spread offense is returning quarterback Kentrez Hilton (5-11, 175), who ran for nearly 500 yards and threw for 370 last season, and running back R.J. Brown (5-10, 165), who rushed for 1,029 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2009.
"If we lose [Hilton], things change in a hurry. ... When he was in eighth grade we brought him up and made him play JV, because we felt like he would probably end up being our starting quarterback over a four-year period. He's done a good job and has been working hard all summer," Longerbeam said.
The Lions gave up 15.3 points per game in 2009, and should be solid again with cornerback Markeise Jackson (6-0, 175), linebacker Cody Stevens (5-11, 195) and safeties Quincy Brown (5-11, 160) and Hilton returning.
Longerbeam said he expects big things from both lines, but added that he is concerned about depth across the board.
Nonetheless, the Lions are loaded with players who have been in the system for four years and have players from solid middle school and JV programs waiting in the wings.
"We're really excited about this year, and honestly we are glad to be here for a fourth year. This is what we were hoping to get to," Longerbeam said.