HERE’S MY LOOK at how the Midlands teams in Class 3A.
In Region 4, we’ll see two new coaches taking over programs in a region that has at least three schools who have a shot at the crown.
The A.C. Flora Falcons, under the direction of coach Reggie Shaw, again enter the season as the favorite. The Falcons return some of the top talent within the region with senior running back Aven Pollard and junior defensive back Rion Davis leading the charge. They will have to replace their quarterback for the second consecutive season.
Challenging for the top spot will be the Lower Richland Diamond Hornets. This will be their second season under coach Darryl Page, and they return solid talent at the skills positions. This team will be better than last year’s team, which made the state playoffs — discounting the disqualification for an administrative error.
The Chapin Eagles and the Westwood Redhawks will battle for the third spot. Chapin returns experience at quarterback but will have holes to fill in other positions. The Red Hawks, under coach Rodney Summers, have some of the top talent in the state at wide receiver, and if they can mature at quarterback, could make this region interesting in their second year.
Camden and Dreher will battle to keep out of the cellar. The Bulldogs have been on a skid for several years now. Despite playing young last season, they’ve got a struggle ahead of them and will see no higher than a fourth place finish in region. Dreher will miss coach Josh Stepp, who was named the AD/coach at Lexington. The Blue Devils have talent at wide receiver and running back but have nothing that resembles an offensive front.
In Region 5, Strom Thurmond rolled through the region last year and should repeat. The Rebels have the region’s best quarterback in Javeer Hammond, and, despite losing one of the state’s top running backs, they will come back almost as strong as last season.
The Swansea Tigers appear to be the team most likely to challenge the Rebels. They will have to replace their quarterback and linebacker/receiver Byron Johnson. But they do return the region’s best running back in Travis Loadholt. They should be the team to beat for the second spot.
The Airport Eagles will have to mature quickly to be a contender and likely will be battling for No. 2 with Swansea.
There will be a three way battle for the fourth spot. The Brookland-Cayce Bearcats have the talent to finish in the top four, but talent has never been their problem. They have some talent in the skills positions, and if they can get support in the trenches and on defense, could be a very good team.
In the mix with the Bearcats will be the Gilbert Indians and the Midland Valley Mustangs. Each of those teams lost key talent to graduation. The Indians have big holes on the offensive line, and their biggest loss was at running back. They need to get better play at quarterback in terms of protecting the football and will probably see this as more of a rebuilding year.
Midland Valley is a wild card, but not wild enough to finish higher than fifth. I like what I’ve seen out of their players in camps this offseason, especially at quarterback, but they will need help and maturity to finish in the top five.
The Midlands’ Top 3A Teams
2. A.C. Flora
3. Lower Richland
(Strom Thurmond and Midland Valley were not included as Midlands teams)