FOOTBALL SEASON kicks off in 137 days. For those of us who see high school football as a never-ending cycle, here are some contenders to be the top team in the Midlands area.
The list begins with Dutch Fork. Last season, Silver Foxes coach Tom Knotts saw his team fall short in the state Class 4A, Division I title game against Gaffney. The Foxes should come back stronger, despite the loss of one of the state’s top players, wide receiver Jordan Berry. Quarterback Derek Olenchuk returns along with one of the top running backs from the 2015 class, Matt Coburn. Apparently, sophomore defensive back Lane Ecton and freshman defensive back Stephen Davis Jr. will move to offensive as receivers. If the defensive improves, look for the Foxes to contend for the Region 5-4A crown with North Augusta.
Spring Valley returns athlete John Miller, who played receiver and running back last year and was one of the most productive players in the Midlands. The Vikings must improve at quarterback to contend in their region. Ryan Lee stepped in some last year as a freshman and performed well, and has looked good in recent QB1 Training Days.
Irmo has a chance to do well with the return of quarterback Demetrius Lewis. Talent at receiver and running back will help. If the Jackets can open with solid play in the trenches, the offense will be fine. On defense, the Yellow Jackets must find a pass rusher.
A.C. Flora returns a solid group of talent, though there are holes to fill. The quarterback spot will be an area of work this spring, but the Falcons will be strong on defense. I look for a hiccup on the offense as the loss of assistant coach Bart Miller to River Bluff High will impact both play calling and what has been a good offensive line. One of 2015’s best players, Rion Davis, returns to help on both sides of the football. The Falcons should be the favorite in Region 4-3A.
Swansea continues to improve under coach Chad Leaphart. With a strong core of returners to the offense, including all-state running back Travis Loadholt, the Tigers should not miss a beat despite having to work in a new quarterback. An aggressive defense will miss senior Byron Johnson, who heads to Furman, but the group could return stronger. They should contend with Strom Thurmond for the Region 5-3A crown.
Keep an eye on Westwood and Chapin. I’ve seen the talent that Redhawks coach Rodney Summers is working with, and they are not far from being a highly competitive team. They have two of the best wide receivers in the state in sophomore Adonus Lee and junior Vyncint Smith. Eagles coach Justin Gentry has done a good job with the program, and they could compete for one of the top spots in Region 4-3A.