Swansea is moving from Class 2A to 3A, and third-year coach Chad Leaphart feels it couldn’t come at a better time.
The Tigers won their first region title since 2003 last year and lose four seniors off a team that finished 9-3 with a third-round exit in the playoffs.
“Swansea has been on the bubble for a couple of years of moving between Class 2A and 3A but I do think we are prepared as ever into making the move,” Leaphart said. “Good football is good football regardless of what classification it is. It just so happens we have improved the two years I’ve been here and this is as good of time as any to make the move.
“We won a region title last year and that was a big deal around here so we have some excitement back surrounding the program.”
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The Tigers are youthful with 16 seniors on the roster, but there is a wealth of experience. Almost all of the skill position players return, led by senior quarterback Jordan Chavis, junior running back Travis Loadholt and senior receivers Byron Johnson and Robbie Brown.
Leaphart has three returning players on the offensive line. Even though the Tigers are seasoned along the line, they still don’t have a senior starter among the starting five.
That bodes well for this season — and the future.
“This is the biggest senior class since I’ve been here, but in the grand scheme of things we still don’t have the 25 or 26 seniors you normally see in your traditional powers,” Leaphart said. “We’re behind in that category as far as depth goes. I like our 11 against anybody else we play but we can’t afford any injuries because we jut aren’t there depth-wise yet.”
Leaphart coached for a decade at Strom Thurmond, which was a state title contender almost yearly. He has brought that mentality back to Swansea, which owns six state championships but none since 1994 following a run of three straight state titles.
Most of the Tigers’ starters have two years of starting experience. There are nine starters back on each side of the ball, and Leaphart believes he has set a foundation that will return the Tigers to their glory years.
“We’ve come a long way in the three years I’ve been here,” Leaphart said. “It’s helped that we’ve had a talented group of kids that have bought into our system. We have more players out than we ever had, so I think we might be seeing the natural progression starting to take shape.”
Swansea’s solid non-region slate includes Calhoun County, Chapin and Batesburg-Leesville before opening region play Sept. 28 against Airport. Leaphart knows he is going to have to battle the Eagles and Strom Thurmond if they are going to make things interesting in Region 5-3A.
“We know the move into the new region is going to present some challenges,” Leaphart said. “Hopefully, we can build on the success we had last season and be able to play against the heavyweights.
“Airport and Strom Thurmond are the two teams you have to look at as being traditionally very good every year. We’ll see where we fit in.”