HERE IS HOW Midlands football teams in Class 2A and 1A should fare this season:
Class 2A-Region 2 has Batesburg-Leesville and Mid-Carolina trading punches with Abbeville, Newberry, Ninety Six and Saluda.
Both the Panthers and Rebels should be improved, but Abbeville, Newberry and Saluda will battle for the top three spots. That leaves B-L and Mid-Carolina competing with Ninety Six for fourth place. Coach Jerry Brown’s Panthers should edge the Rebels and Wildcats.
The entire Region 3 consists of Midlands teams. Fairfield Central is the team to beat. Fourteen Griffins starters return to a team that played for the Class 2A-Division 1 state title. Quarterback Deandre Belton returns after producing 2,644 total yards of offense with 29 touchdowns as a junior.
Two challengers in this region will be Keenan and Columbia. The Raiders return a wealth of talent, led by senior Peter Esaw, who will line up everywhere. I can see this team battling Columbia for the region’s No. 2 spot.
Columbia lost a lot of talent to graduation, but coach Kemper Amick has a solid core of returners, including one of the top wide receivers in the region. The key is if the Capitals can mature in the trenches.
North Central has improved in recent years. The Knights and the Capitals should battle for third and fourth place.
Pelion has one of the more dangerous players in the region in athlete Freddie Phillips, but the Panthers will struggle in region play, finishing no higher than fourth. Eau Claire again will be in the cellar.
Calhoun County, who will be under the direction of former Dutch Fork coach Bill Kimrey, is in Region 5. The Saints could finish as low as fifth out of the five teams in that region.
There is one 1A team in the Midlands: C.A. Johnson in Region 3. The Hornets will be improved from a team that was 2-2 in region play last year. While Lamar is the team to beat, the Hornets could challenge for the No. 2 spot. Quarterback/athlete Michael Knox is one of the best-kept secrets in the state. With the surrounding skills talent, I could see them finishing 3-1 in region play. Other teams in that region are Great Falls, McBee and Lewisville. The Hornets defeated both Great Falls and McBee in 2012.
Midlands SCISA teams are Hammond, Heathwood Hall and Ben Lippen. They participate in a nine-team region with Porter-Gaud, Laurence Manning, Wilson Hall, Cardinal Newman, Orangeburg Prep, Pinewood Prep and Augusta Christian.
Of the three Midlands teams, I see Hammond playing for the top spot. With solid talent returning, coach Erik Kimrey’s Skyhawks will get fierce competition from Wilson Hall and Augusta Christian.
Look for improvement in Laurence Manning as former Manning coach Robbie Briggs resigned from the Monarchs and takes the reigns for the Swampcats.