As practice fields sit largely idle on the first Sunday following the start of high-school football workouts, it’s as good a time as any to ponder some of the top Lowcountry storylines entering the 2016 season.
This isn’t a comprehensive list by any means. But amid realignment, a brand new program, three other coaching changes and the usual shuffle of top names departing and new ones stepping in, these are the topics that bubble to the top.
1. It’s hard to imagine anyone was happier than Bluffton to see realignment arrive.
Though the Bobcats enjoyed a deep playoff run during 2012’s initial year in Class 4A, it’s tough to sustain success in a region that featured three of the state’s “Big 16” teams. Bluffton went 1-8 the past three years against Summerville, Fort Dorchester and Ashley Ridge.
“We did great up until (region play),” coach Ken Cribb said.
Now between the South Carolina High School League’s move to five classifications and the split that created May River High, the pieces seem aligned for Bluffton to make its presence felt in Class 3A.
“They have goals. They know what they want,” said Cribb, who has 28 seniors back from last year’s 5-6 squad. “It is an opportunity to get back to 3A and have as much success as we can possibly generate.”
2. Though the calendar is set to flip to August, it’s spring at Battery Creek.
Or it’s the equivalent to spring football, where coach Fred Hamilton’s mid-June hire has left him rushing to install his system with three weeks until the season opener.
“We’re scrambling, man,” Hamilton said. “With a spring practice, we’d have everything in. We’d just be reviewing. But we’re not going to lose any sleep over it. We’ve just got to start knocking that wall down until we get it down.”
At least the Dolphins open against Swansea, which also changed coaches during the offseason.
“The only advantage they have over us is they had spring practice,” Hamilton said.
3. By comparison, May River seems to be on cruise control. But the Sharks still haven’t even set foot on their new campus.
“We’re having to treat it like they’re all freshmen,” said coach Rodney Summers, still using River Ridge Academy as a home base. “I use that term a lot. They may be sophomores and juniors and seniors, but they’re still freshmen when it comes to May River football. It’s all brand new.”
By now, Summers and his staff have been able to sort the 68-man roster to get players (hopefully) into the right spots. He’s sort of an old hand at this, having launched the Westwood program four years ago in Blythewood.
“We are probably about where we were then (at Westwood),” he said. “There’s a lot of question marks as far as not knowing how they’re going to react in game situations, not knowing how they’re going to react when they get hit.”
4. Though Hilton Head Island lost some serious firepower, there’s plenty in reserve.
The Seahawks produced a sweep of the Island Packet/Beaufort Gazette’s offensive and defensive players of the year on the way to an 11-2 season. Quarterback Aidan Hegarty (Boston College) and two-way star Jestin Morrow (Marshall) are off to college now, along with three other all-area players.
In running back Tyler Hamilton and receiver Bryce Singleton, the Seahawks should still put up numbers. Both topped 1,200 yards from scrimmage last season.
“We still have some very dynamic players coming back,” coach B.J. Payne said. “We’ve got to see if we can fill in the areas around them.”
5. At John Paul II, the key number is 11.
After one season of eight-man football, the Golden Warriors are taking the jump to the standard game and will compete in SCISA Class A. New coach Kevin Wald opened fall camp with a 19-man roster from which to fashion a lineup.
Hey, that’s more than his first year at Hilton Head Prep, where he began with 12 players and posted a 5-5 mark.
“If these guys continue to trust me and our coaching staff and believe in what we’re doing,” Wald said, “we’ll be better than people think.”
6. After a nine-year break, Dave Adams looks like he hasn’t missed a beat.
The longtime Bluffton coach and athletics director seemed back in his element teaching fundamentals on Prep’s fields, where he resumes a coaching career that was put on hold in 2007 to focus on his AD responsibilities.
“It kind of rolls back out of you again,” Adams said. “Doing that stuff on the field is what I really enjoy doing. It was hot, but I’m ready for the next practice. We’re going to have fun.”
7. Who do the college scouts like out here?
Hamilton is rated highest of a quartet of three-star prospects by 247Sports, just ahead of Bluffton athlete Cameron Bent. The website lists Tennessee, West Virginia and Missouri among schools that have offered Hamilton; Bent’s offers include USC.
Singleton and Beaufort running back Omar Cummings round out the 247Sports foursome.