High School Football

Here are the top story lines for Grand Strand high school football as kickoff looms

St. James’ Malachi Butler runs against Myrtle Beach at the 2018 Kickoff Classic. Aug., 10 2018. The Sharks played Monday against West Florence and hope to play again Friday at Carolina Forest.
St. James’ Malachi Butler runs against Myrtle Beach at the 2018 Kickoff Classic. Aug., 10 2018. The Sharks played Monday against West Florence and hope to play again Friday at Carolina Forest. jlee@thesunnews.com

For 257 days, we’ve been without high school football, following a thrilling round of South Carolina High School League (SCHSL) championship games in early December. We’ve survived by watching Alabama bring home another College Football Playoff national championship, the Eagles win the Super Bowl and another Cavs-Warriors battle on the hardwood. Thankfully, the resurgence of the Braves has made another long, hot summer worthwhile as we anxiously await a football being placed on a tee and toe-to-leather for town pride.

While we’ve been sitting in air conditioning or relaxing on the beach taking in the ocean breeze, the players have been putting in big time work. From Socastee to Green Sea Floyds, North Myrtle Beach to Conway and everywhere in between, our 10 Grand Strand teams have made acquaintance with early morning practices, running sprints in the heat, and perfecting the plays that will lead to glory on Friday nights.

Going into the 2018 season, the Grand Strand has an embarrassment of riches in story lines facing our local teams. Will North Myrtle Beach have another perfect regular season? How does Conway rebuild its offensive line following a 10-win season? How will Waccamaw use uber-athlete Tyree Funnye this season? How good can Luke Doty be for the explosive Myrtle Beach offense?

Heading into the season, which begins with a heavyweight clash as North Myrtle Beach visits Conway on Thursday, here are the biggest story lines for the Grand Strand’s football teams.

How will the new coaches impact their teams?

Two teams will have new leaders on the sideline this season, as Aynor turns to longtime coordinator Jason Allen and St. James brings in 31-year coaching veteran Tommy Norwood to lead its forces. Both men have been around the game for a long time and expect to be at the helm of their respective programs for the long haul. For St. James, building a program that can compete at the top classification in South Carolina, Class 5A, is paramount and will take more than one season. Aynor is turning to its fourth head coach since 1977 in Allen, who has been with the program as a coach since 2003. The Blue Jackets will still pound the ball in the “Hammer” offense, which has been in place for nearly a decade.

Now that year one is in the books, how will second-year coaches fare?

Four of the teams in the Grand Strand had a new head coach last season, meaning more than half of our teams have had a coaching change in the past two seasons. Last season, Conway, Green Sea Floyds, North Myrtle Beach, and Waccamaw charted in a new direction, with varying levels of success in year one.

It would be hard to improve on Matt Reel’s record at North Myrtle Beach last season, as he led the Chiefs to an undefeated regular season and a deep playoff run, falling in the third round of the Class 4A playoffs. This season he will rely on the right arm of Cason McClendon to continue the Chiefs’ upward trajectory of the past five seasons.

In Conway, replacing a legend in Chuck Jordan was no easy task, but coach Carlton Terry was more than capable, piling up 10 wins. Gone are three stellar offensive linemen, an excellent dual-threat quarterback and much of a stout defense. For Terry and the Tigers to be a key player in Region VI-5A, a host of new players will need to step into critical positions.

Waccamaw’s Shane Fidler ran into some tough luck in year one as the Warriors’ head man, going 0-10 with hard-fought games against Carvers Bay and Hannah-Pamplico as prime examples of winnable games. In year two, Fidler will lean on his playmakers to bring home multiple wins to Waccamaw.

Green Sea Floyds and Donnie Kiefer were a solid pairing in 2017, winning seven games, including a first round Class A playoff matchup against Scott’s Branch. While they lost to eventual state runner up Baptist Hill in round two, the Trojans had a solid season that embodied the toughness Kiefer promised when he came to Green Sea Floyds. Key players like Josh Slobodiak and Anwain Graham will lead a strong Trojan ground game this season.

Replacing the field general

Many of the talking heads that make up the national sports media will make a case that quarterback is the most important position in all of sports and is critical for any and all team success. If that’s the case, quite a few Grand Strand teams will have to answer a big question in 2018 – who is going to be the guy? For Myrtle Beach, Socastee, Carolina Forest, Conway, Loris, and Green Sea Floyds their first test as a team will also be the debut of a new quarterback. How will Luke Doty perform in replacing Lawson Cribb and his incredible success over his career at Myrtle Beach; can one player replicate what Darren Grainger did for Conway last season; how far can Carolina Forest go without the steadying left arm of Matt Beale leading the to the playoffs year after year; does Loris have another Levon Stevenson waiting in the wings; can Socastee use Seth McKinney similarly to Hunter Illing? With a new quarterback comes new skill sets, expectations, and achievements.

Returning stars will make for a thrilling season

While many teams are replacing quarterbacks, the returning talent in the skill positions, offensive lines and defenses is immense and electric. Every town and team have a player they’re excited to see hit the field for another stellar season, with shiny new toys for offensive coordinators, the next wave of pass rushers, hard-hitting linebackers or ball-hawking defensive backs for the defensive staff, and the new kicker who can make a field goal from 45 yards with no problems – they’ve all been discussed at length by the masses and now it’s time to see them in action.

Realignment slightly changes things

The realignment in 2016-18 that created Class 5A shook up high school football on the Grand Strand, taking away some of the region matchups between local schools. The next round of realignment, which goes into place this season, mildly shakes up the regions that were in place the past two seasons. St. James will join the ranks as a 5A competitor, going into Region VI with Carolina Forest, Conway, Socastee, South Florence and West Florence.

Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach will compete in Region VI-4A with Darlington, Hartsville, Marlboro County and Wilson. Hartsville has won 78 games over the past six seasons, playing for the state title numerous times.

Loris and Aynor will make up Region VI-3A with Cheraw, Dillon, Lake City and Marion. Waccamaw will play in Region VIII-3A against Academic Magnet, Bishop England, Georgetown, Hanahan and Manning

In Region VI-A, Green Sea Floyds will clash with Lake View, Hemingway, and Creek Bridge.

Can St. James find its way in 5A?

Moving from Class 4A to Class 5A is already a big task for the Sharks, but doing so with its third head coach in three years makes the move even tougher. While playing with the big boys is something head coach Tommy Norwood is comfortable with, he knows that to build a program with staying power will take a few years. This offseason, Norwood and the Sharks have focused on building strength in the weight room, working to ensure his offensive and defensive lines can withstand what other Class 5A schools will present to them. He’s confident that his team will be ready to play, but knows that wins will be tough to find for his young squad.

How does Carolina Forest keep the momentum going?

Last season, Carolina Forest knocked off Lexington on the road in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs, claiming the first playoff victory for coach Marc Morris in defeating the blue blood program. While the 2017 Panthers made the deepest playoff run in more than a decade at Carolina Forest, replicating that success will be no easy task. Gone are key players like QB Matt Beale and TE Corey Pearre, coming up is a crop of junior varsity and freshmen players who have had great success at the lower levels. Can the youth movement off 501 create a perfect storm for another playoff run?

Mickey Wilson’s 100th win at Myrtle Beach

Barring a seemingly unthinkable one-win season for the loaded Seahawks, Wilson is primed to win his 100th game at Myrtle Beach with its second victory of the season. A state champion coach during his tenure at Myrtle Beach, Wilson has won 98 games in nine seasons, often piling up the points in his high-octane offense.

The chase for the Toast of the Coast Player of the Year

The prize for the top football player on the Grand Strand last season went to North Myrtle Beach running back Kered Class, following a nearly 1,500-yard season with 16 touchdowns.

Who is in line to take the crown in 2018?

Cason McClendon, QB – North Myrtle Beach

Luke Doty, QB – Myrtle Beach

Noah Seaver, RB – Aynor

Tyree Funnye, ATH – Waccamaw

Tonka Hemingway, DL – Conway

Javonte Turrentine, DL – Loris

Jermani Green, RB – Myrtle Beach

While we know what to expect from each of these stellar returning players, there’s no doubt there will be some currently unknown players who could burst on the scene to take the title of the Toast of the Coast Football Player of the Year – that’s part of what makes high school football so great.

Can anybody make a run to Columbia?

As former NFL and current Arizona State Coach Herm Edwards so eloquently put it: “You play to win the game.” With that well-defined goal in place, can any of the Grand Strand’s football teams string together enough wins to make a run to a state title? There is plenty of talent in the area, but tough competition from around the state won’t make it easy.

Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach look primed for a titanic clash in region play, and adding newcomer and traditional power Hartsville to the region will give both teams a litmus test mid-season as to where they stand in Class 4A, with South Pointe looming as a gigantic playoff test.

Carolina Forest, Conway, Socastee and St. James have their work cut out for them facing teams like Dorman, Byrnes, and Dutch Fork having their way in Class 5A.

Class 3A has been ruled by Dillon in recent years. Can Aynor make a deep run with new coach Jason Allen? Is Loris ready to pounce after last year’s narrow defeat in the first round of the playoffs?

Green Sea Floyds made it to the second round of the Class A playoffs a season ago, falling to state runner-up Baptist Hill on the road. If the Trojans’ rushing attack can carry the load, Green Sea Floyds has a great chance to make a run. Waccamaw’s projected improvement in year two of Shane Fidler should be enough to get them into the playoffs, with a fighting chance in Class A.

Team Capsules

Aynor Blue Jackets

Coach: Jason Allen (first year)

2017 record: 6-5, 2-3 Region VI-3A (lost to Gilbert in first round of Class 3A playoffs)

Returning starters: 11 (7 offense, 4 defense)

Radio station: None

Carolina Forest Panthers

Coach: Marc Morris (21-26 in four years at Carolina Forest)

2017 record: 7-6, 2-3 Region VI-5A (lost to Fort Dorchester in second round of Class 5A playoffs

Returning starters: 10 (five offense, five defense)

Radio station: WSEA-FM 101.9

Conway Tigers

Coach: Carlton Terry (10-2 in first year at Conway)

2017 record: 10-2, 5-0 Region VI-5A (lost to Spring Valley in second round of Class 5A playoffs)

Returning starters: 7 (two offense, five defense)

Radio station: WGTR-FM 107.9

Green Sea Floyds

Coach: Donnie Kiefer (6-6 in first year at Green Sea Floyds)

2017 record: 6-6, 2-3 Region VI-A (lost to Baptist Hill in second round of Class A playoffs)

Returning starters: 14 (seven offense, seven defense)

Radio station: None

Loris Lions

Coach: Jamie Snider (50-32 in seven years at Loris)

2017 record: 4-7, 2-3 Region VI-3A (lost to Brookland-Cayce in first round of Class 3A playoffs)

Returning starters: 10 (five offense, five defense)

Radio station: WLSC-AM 1240

Myrtle Beach Seahawks

Coach: Mickey Wilson (98-26 in nine years at Myrtle Beach

2017 record: 7-5, 3-1 Region VII-4A (lost to Lower Richland in second round of Class 4A playoffs)

Returning starters: 17 (eight offense, nine defense)

Radio station: WYNA-FM 104.9

North Myrtle Beach Chiefs

Coach: Matt Reel (12-1 in first year)

2017 record: 12-1, 4-0 Region VII-4A (lost to Berkeley in third round of Class 4A playoffs)

Returning starters: 10 (five offense, five defense)

Radio station: WRNN-FM 99.5

Socastee Braves

Coach: Doug Illing (28-28 in five years at Socastee)

2017 record: 5-6, 1-4 Region VI-5A (lost to Fort Dorchester in first round of Class 5A playoffs)

Returning starters: 8 (three offense, five defense)

Radio station: WSEA-FM 100.3

St. James

Coach: Tommy Norwood (first year at St. James)

2017 record: 2-8, 0-4 Region VII-4A (did not make playoffs)

Returning starters: 13 (six offense, seven defense)

Radio station: None

Waccamaw

Coach: Shane Fidler (0-10 in first year at Waccamaw)

2017 record: 0-10, 0-5 Region VI-3A

Returning starters: 12 (six offense, six defense)

Radio station: WGTN 1400 AM

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