High school football teams preview part 3, by Tyler Cupp
2017 record: 7-4
The Eagles get 16 starters back to the fold this year from a solid seven win campaign last year. A lot of eyes will be on the transition of Chapin into Class 5A. It is strongly believed by many that Chapin is now the only school in SC to compete in all classifications. They were 2A as recently as just 16 years ago but the growth in that particular area has made Chapin the 40th largest school in the state. Justin Gentry, now in his eighth year, will have his work cut out for him moving up a class, but quite frankly the Eagles should be fine. They have great numbers in athletics which many can draw to the recently revamped facilities and long tradition at Chapin. The strength of the Eagles will start up front with four lineman back. They will protect Roger Pedroni who accounted for over 1200 yards and 10 scores in 2017. Running back Taison Thomas is also back and from what I’m told could be very good. James Wells stands out on defense as the leader. The outside linebacker was even invited to an all-star prospect game in Hawaii later this year. Also watch out for Garrett Huyck who could play both ways but is primarily transitioning to offensive line.
Aug 24th AT Mid-Carolina
The longest continuous running rivalry is always a fun one. The Battle of the Bell draws a standing room room only crowd. The last trip for Chapin to Lon Armstrong Field 2 years ago saw the Eagles down by two scores only to come back. It is now known to fans as the “Prosperity Prayer.” Other non conference opponents include Lugoff-Elgin, Newberry, AC Flora, Spring Valley and Nation Ford.
Eagles play in what I call the ‘Lexington County’ region 5-5A with Dutch Fork, White Knoll, Lexington and River Bluff. With the Silver Foxes projected on paper to win this, I would say Chapin will battle Lexington and even White Knoll for that 2nd spot. The two games to watch will be September 28 AT Dutch Fork and October 19 vs Lexington.
2017 Record: 9-5 (Lost to Dillon in Lower State Championship)
Another team making the jump in classification will be the Bearcats of B-C. From making the Lower State title game the previous two seasons in 3A, they now will play with all new competition in 4A. Rusty Charpia is in his 8th year with B-C and has made the playoffs in all but 1 of those seasons. The top 2 returners on this team without question is QB Reed Charpia and senior linebacker Paul Edwards. Even battling injuries Reed had a solid 2017 season. The offense returns 6 starters overall including four up front on the line. Some newcomers to watch will be Tyrick Mccoy on the O-line, and wide receiver Joe Pradubsri
The new region 5-4A includes rival Airport, Midland Valley, North Augusta and both Aiken and South Aiken. Those are some long trips but B-C should be favored to at least be in the top two of that bunch. In the non-region slate, B-C will play Spring Valley, Irmo, White Knoll and Newberry. The Bearcats also play Airport twice, once in in Week 1 then again to end the year when it counts against the region.
2017 Record: 13-1 (5A State Champions)
The Silver Foxes are going for the three peat in high school football. Coach Tom Knotts who has accomplished just about everything there is to do at this level, still seems driven to do it again. Hearing a recent interview, I was surprised to hear that he thinks on paper this might be the best team he has had since coming to Dutch Fork. That is a very scary thought considering his club has won back to back titles and has consistently played games in late November. Knotts has won over 90 games since arriving to Ballentine in 2010. DF gets a lot of speed on the outside with Jalin Hyatt back at receiver and also return one of the Midlands top backs in Ron Hoff. Along with the quarterback, both tight ends, and two lineman, they should have plenty of chemistry early on offense. Saw an interview too, where Knotts spoke highly of his defensive stopper in Jamar Walker. He will be one of the leaders in the patented 3-4 scheme.
Dutch Fork will face one of the toughest schedules from top to bottom. But I imagine that’s just how Knotts likes it. From opening the season with powerhouse Mallard Creek(Charlotte, NC) to Boiling Springs and Northwestern, the non conference is as good as it gets. Add in Spring Valley and Irmo to that as well. In the region, most expect DF to take this but don’t tell that to the Silver Foxes, they will be focused on every test in their way as if its a playoff game in November.
2017 record: 5-6
Dean Howell has always been a well respected coach around the Midlands. He gets a lot of (well deserved) credit in revamping AC Flora and turning them into a perennial playoff team. Howell had 3 double digit win seasons there from 2009-2012. Howell, is now currently working on making White Knoll a consistent contender. And doing that the previous handful of seasons in 4A and 5A have been difficult. Still, last year was the first losing season for Howell and the T-wolves since he arrived in 2013. He had four winning seasons before last year’s 6 loss campaign. But getting them to that next level is the challenge. It could be another season of transition as the Timberwolves return just 6 starters. They do get back QB Aveon Smith and OL Nick Taiste. Also back on defense are David Kinard and Jacob Bannister.
The Timberwolves have some winnable games early in the non conference slate with tilts against Colleton County, Keenan, and Aiken. In the region, White Knoll gets River Bluff and Lexington at home while having to travel to Chapin and Dutch Fork.
2017 Record: 7-5
The Wildcats are one of my teams to watch in 2018. I think they could be one of the better teams in the Midlands. Perry Woolbright and his staff did a great job in his first year. Some may have thought they overachieved, but in a good way. From the coaching turnover and graduating players, the Wildcats had a solid season that could very well carry over to this year. They return 12 total with 6 on both sides of the ball. The 6 on defense is key considering they gave up just 18 points per game. That’s pretty strong when you consider the competition they played.
9/14 AT Batesburg-Leesville.
The place where Perry made his name. He coached the Panthers for 3 years winning 26 games in that time. The non region is as tough as it gets among Midlands teams. Outside of Batesburg, the Wildcats face Irmo, Dreher, Gilbert, South Aiken and Spring Valley. This obviously isn’t college baseball, but if it was, the RPI would be pretty high to start the season for the Wildcats.
Again, most predict that Dutch Fork is the class and favorite of this region 5-5A. I think Lexington and Chapin will be pretty good competing for 2nd, just from what I read and hear. Watch for October 19 with it being another homecoming of sorts for Perry as he will coach in a stadium named after his grandfather. Cecil Woolbright was coach and A.D. of Chapin from 68-81. He led Chapin to two state title appearances. His son, and Perry’s father Marty, would go on to become one of the best athletes in Chapin history being all state in football and basketball along with being a three year letterman at the University of South Carolina. One would imagine a pretty surreal experience doing that.
2017 Record: 6-5
Some 20 plus seniors make up the Irmo roster in 2018. Not always does this compute to success, but in Irmo’s case the Yellow jackets have played a group of kids young and they are now hungry hoping it pays off dividends. This unit is determined to host a playoff game. Of the returning impact players, you have to start with running back Kendrell Flowers who is committed to play at Wake Forest. Last year Flowers ran for over 700 yards and 7 touchdowns. Irmo also gets their starting quarterback John Ragin under center, too. Even with Flowers a focal point, I have been told that newcomer Jansen McGhee could still split some time in the backfield. Defensive impact players to watch on defense will be Julius Land, Oka Emmanwori and Eric Vincent. Winning 6 games in 2017, I would imagine expectations are pretty high with the crop of talent returning. Coach Reggie Kennedy is a very underrated game day coach and could have another sleeper team by the end of the season.
The Battle of the Dam between Lexington and Irmo kick off the season. The Yellowjackets hope to avenge a 20 point loss from last season. The game will be at W.C Hawkins in Irmo. Road trips to Dutch Fork and Brookland-Cayce will also be challenges in the non conference. With the talent Irmo has returning, they should absolutely be a playoff contender in their region. They also have plenty of history with every team in the new conference(Sumter, Blythewood, LE, Spring Valley) having either played against them last year or as recent as 3 years ago.
2017 Record: 2-8
The Gators return 13 starters from a tough 2017 campaign. Its still a transition and work in progress for 2nd year head coach Blair Hardin who also serves as AD. Talking with the coach this week, he told me that this was technically his first full off-season with the team considering he arrived at the school back in May of last year. He said the kids are buying into the weight room. From speed training to lifting, the team in his mind is on the right track getting stronger and faster. They are still very young and will probably play anywhere from 7-8 sophomores this season. But according to Hardin, they will have a better understanding of his system in year two. Among the returning stars, look for Antonio Gantt, Braden Walker, and Damone Spencer to make big impacts. Also, Shaq Garvin could be a player to watch at corner.
Side note, River Bluff has added eight new coaches to its staff this year.
In the non conference, River Bluff will have some interesting games on deck. Games with Pelion, Gilbert, LE, Irmo and Fort Mill is a good mix to compete with. In the region, the Gators are in the stacked 5A Lexington region. However, one thing I noticed in a game with LE last year was that Hardin’s team was disciplined. If they carry that over with good defense and special teams(also displayed in same game), they should hang around with a number of those squads.
Special thanks for additional research to Chapin play-by-play voice Matt Barber (@dixiefriedsport on Twitter), Johnny Johnson of Irmo, and Mike Hagins of 1620 The Dove.