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Class AAAA strengthened by reclassification in 2020

By David Shelton

Senior Writer

Moncks Corner – The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Despite a major shuffle in realignment and reclassification by the S.C. High School League, the usual list of state title contenders won’t change much in 2020.

Yes, the season will be shortened to seven games and only two teams from each region will make the state playoffs. And yes, that means some very competitive third-place teams in some regions will be left out of the running for the title. But, if the best teams in the new AAAA avoid upsets in region play and get into the bracket, look for one or two of the familiar teams to be in playing in December.

South Pointe and Myrtle Beach suffered some losses to graduation but expect both to be in the conversation.

Greenwood, Laurens and Greenville, all from region two, will have very good teams this fall. Hartsville, another perennial contender, has quality returning at all levels from a 10-win team.

Looking for a sleeper maybe, watch how A.C. Flora develops over the season. The Falcons are going to be top notch on defense and a transfer quarterback will add to an already good running game.

Here’s how the regions should line up. For various reasons, not every coach responded to information requests so we tried to represent each region as best we could.

 

Region 1-AAAA Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Walhalla
  2. Westside
  3. Traveler’s Rest
  4. Easley
  5. Pickens

Walhalla finished 7-4 last season and will contend for the region one title. Senior running back Zaire Scotland (5-11, 210) is one of the top backs in the state. The Army commit rushed for nearly 1,500 yards and 23 touchdowns last season.

Senior Cole Klugo also returns in the run game and senior Malachi Hunter will be one of the more versatile athletes in the offense, capable of lining up at several positions.

On defense, seniors Amarius Graham and Howie Thomas are returning linebackers, and junior Coy Searcy is a leader along the defensive front.

Westside head coach Scott Earley received a nice surprise late in the preseason when junior quarterback prospect Peter Zamora transferred in from Deerfield Beach, Florida…Zamora already has Division I offers and is a dual-threat performer…Zamora will enter into a competition with returning junior Owen Skelton. Sophomore running back Nehemiah Smith and Hunter Puckett, and junior receiver Ryan Brownell will be key pieces offensively. Anchoring the offensive line is senior Appalachian State commit Jayden Ramsey, and junior Brady Bendig also returns as a starter.

Defensive leaders this fall should be lineman Omair Brown and linebacker KT Perry.  Senior Zade Miles returns at safety and senior Bryce Earley returns as the placekicker and punter.

Traveler’s Rest must replace some valuable performers from a team that won eight games last season. Senior Cam Henderson and junior AJ Raines should be capable at running back. Sophomore Drayton Ward is a quality receiver and senior Richard Forrester and junior Logan Andrews will lead the offensive line.

Senior corners Brooks Russ-Martin and Bradley Russ-Martin return at cornerback and senior Easton Snipes returns at middle linebacker.

Jordan Durrah takes over as the head coach at Easley High, coming over from a stint as the offensive coordinator at Byrnes. Durrah had a previous assistant coaching position at Easley. The Green Wave were 3-7 last season with their last winning season coming in 2015.

Senior quarterback Kasten Harvey will be a good starting point offensively. Harvey passed for 1,455 yards and rushed for 438 yards last season.

Sophomore receiver Chris Edge caught 56 passes in 2019 and junior running back A.J. Brown will be a key in the run game.

Top defensive returners should include linebackers Brian Williams and Christian Santana, and safety Jamal Crawford.

Pickens was 2-8 last season and did not win a region game. Among expected returners are junior fullback/linebacker Brennan Perkins, linemen Peyton Howard and Kyle Price, and receiver Zander Gravely.

 

Region 2-AAAA Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Laurens
  2. Greenwood
  3. Greenville
  4. Eastside
  5. Greer

Region two is one of the toughest and most competitive conferences in class AAAA. With a few breaks in a shortened season, at least three teams have a legitimate shot at winning the league.

Chris Liner left a solid program at Laurens to become the head coach at Greenwood this season. The coach has five returning starters on offense, led by returning tackle Bryson Peppers. Two quality receivers are back in Jaylin Tolbert and Ahmari Coates. Liner says solidifying the quarterback position and getting running backs healthy are keys to success. He says the running back position is talented but several are coming off injuries.

Linebacker Jy Martin is the team leader on defense, while KJ Makins and Carrell Richards return as starters in the secondary. All three are seniors.

“There is a ton of talent on this team,” Liner says. “We believe the key to this year is finding a way to come together (coaches and players), which was made difficult by the pandemic.”

A perennial contender, Greer slipped to 4-8 last season. Coach Will Young will field a young team defensively, projecting six sophomores as starters this fall. The lone senior starters projected as starters are linebacker Kip Miller and defensive back EJ Bradford.

The offense has solid depth at the skill positions. Hollis Crosby finished last season as the quarterback and will return as the full-time starter. Senior Miller DeArmond and junior Jaleel Skinner are two talented receivers.

Four seniors will start along the offensive line but only one, left tackle Jaydon Collins, was a starter last season.

Greenville High head coach Greg Porter has some quality veterans back offensively but must replace seven starters on defense.

The offense returns quarterback Prometheus Franklin, who threw for nearly 1,100 yards last season. Junior running back Khaliquic Holland rushed for nearly 1,000 yards as a sophomore and 6-4 junior Aalijah Kelly is a prospect at receiver.

Anchoring the offensive line is one of the nation’s top juniors, tackle Collin Sadler, who already has received more than a dozen scholarship offers.

Transfers Aries Scott and Aces Scott will make an immediate impact along the defensive front and linebacker, respectively. Senior Terrence Gist is a returning starter at linebacker and Ashton Whitner returns in the secondary.

The new head coach at Laurens is former defensive coordinator Daryl Smith, which made for a smooth transition with the players. The Raiders were 9-2 last year and have solid experience returning in most areas.

The running game will again be solid with returners Jeremiah Fuller, Zy Todd and Gemire Darden, a sophomore. Senior guard Will Yates is a returner along the front. Senior Nick Humphries returns at receiver and sophomore James Rawl will be a candidate at quarterback.

The defense is stout. Senior end Cole England (6-4m 240), senior tackle TJ Garlington (6-3, 370), ends Isaiah Pearson and Kedravius Mosley also have experience.

Leaders in the secondary look to be juniors Isaac Craig and Jayden McGowan.

At Eastside, Andre Woolcock returns a prolific passer in senior Marshall Skoloff, who threw for 3,076 yards and 33 touchdowns last season, adding 606 yards rushing. Gone are his top two receivers but Devery Cagle returns with 40 receptions for 516 yards last season. Sophomore Tyler Brown will step into a big role as a receiver as well.

Senior Sam Judy, Marshall Rice and Cody Williams will be factors along the offensive line. Transfer Rickey Abercrombie will make a big impact along the defensive line this fall. Wyatt Posey also will make an impact along the front.

Linebackers include Miles Scott, junior Cayden Erwin and senior Sean Ross. Working on the back end are Fabian Cruell, Blake Cheatham and Brailyn Washington and junior Trelon Slade.

 

Region 3-AAAA Predicted Order of Finish

  1. South Pointe
  2. York
  3. Lancaster
  4. Indian Land
  5. Catawba Ridge

South Pointe is favored to win region three, a shocker I know. The Stallions, despite losses in personnel, will still have the best athletes in the region.

Speaking of athletes, South Pointe has one of the best in the state with senior O’Mega Blake, who has verbally committed to South Carolina. Blake (6-3, 205) can and likely will line up at quarterback, receiver and running back, as well as on defense. He tallied 800 yards receiving and nearly 400 yards as a rusher last season.

Blake could be the starting quarterback but transfer Nebanye Moore, a 6-3, 205-pounder from Statesville, North Carolina, could end up as the starter. Moore threw 24 touchdown passes as a sophomore.

Caleb Rayner is another returner as a receiver/running back and senior Nygel Moore returns as a running back. Senior receiver Malik Ross is back and Ernie Greenwood returns to a young offensive line.

Returners defensively include junior tackle Logan Daye, linebacker Roggie Hinson and free safety Troy Frazier.

Dean Boyd begins his second season at York after winning four games in year one. The coach feels he and his staff made progress in changing the culture at his alma mater and thinks the Cougars will be improved.

“I don’t know what that means in terms of wins because we play less games this season, but I feel like we can be a better team than we were a year ago,” Boyd said.

Quarterback Weston Hante will take over as the full-time leader of the offense after sharing time last season. Senior receiver Dashawn Brown is an Appalachian State commit and junior Frank Thompson and senior Jordan Burris will get major work at running back.

Leading the way defensively is junior linebacker Ashton Eddington, who led the team in tackles last season. Senior Davion Smith-Terry returns at noseguard and senior Jonmarea Harris is back at defensive end.

Junior Robert McKinley is back at one corner and safeties Isaiah Burris and Amarion Huskey-Thompson are returning starters as well.

Adam Hastings is the new head coach at Indian Land and will have a good core of experienced players to work with this fall.

Offensively, some of the top projected returners include senior receiver Miegwel Lewis, senior running back TJ Thomas, and senior linemen Michael Csuhta and Reid Hayden. Junior Ahmarion McLeod also has experience up front.

Senior Desmond Ivey returns on the defensive line and senior John Vaschak is back at linebacker. Senior Grant Witherspoon is a safety and junior Dumkele Idehen is a returning linebacker.

Catawba Ridge enters year two as a varsity program and will have all 22 starters back from last season.

Anchoring the offensive line are senior Aidan Blackmon and juniors JD McClain and Cade Purgason. Junior Henry Brown returns at running back and seniors Quinten Jackson and Ben Hudgins return at receiver.

The strength defensive is at linebacker with returners Kayden Hager (Sr.), Sam Dickerson (Sr.), Will Lowman (Jr.) and Brody Tesimale (So.). Junior nose tackle Asa Johnson anchors the defensive front and junior corner Jacobie Henderson is the leader on the back end.

Among those expected to return at Lancaster are senior quarterback Sean Truesdale, junior running back Juelz Hood, senior running back Ty Bowser, junior tackle Eli Nix, junior defensive end Fred Twitty, and junior lineman Ja’Maryun McGriff.

 

Region 4-AAAA Predicted Order of Finish

  1. A.C. Flora
  2. Westwood
  3. Lugoff-Elgin
  4. Dreher
  5. Richland NE

The Falcons of A.C. Flora are the favored team in region four and should be a contender for bigger things in the postseason.

Coach Dustin Curtis returns one of the best defensive lines in the state in Omarion Hammond, Amerie Stephens and Jackie Brown. Hammond is a Georgia State commit.

Returning at linebacker are Tyrell Green and Tyler Robinson, with Boyce Bankhead and Diego Addison back in the secondary.

Former Hillcrest quarterback Ethan Beamish has transferred to Flora and will run the offense this fall. Beamish will have solid performers around him, led by running back Matt Pack and tight end Banks Pope, an Appalachian State commit. The top target in the passing game is senior Eriq Rice.

Three starters return on the offensive line, led by seniors Chapman Lee and Billy Avant.

Westwood was 8-4 a year ago under coach Matt Quinn. The Redhawks look to be a contender in the region this fall.

Juniors Elijah Burgess and Cameron Brown are expected to compete for the nod at quarterback. Senior Nicolas Gilliam returns at running back.

Senior Josiah Frazier and senior Jerrod Edwards are returning linemen. Mikah Graham returns as a linebacker. Zi’kef Johnson and Marquise Walker return in the secondary.

Lugoff-Elgin hopes to contend for a playoff spot, which would require a top two finish this season. Tyler Dixon, a running back, and receiver Blease Campbell are two returners on offense.

Linebackers Ethan Hix and Daniel Rowson, along with end Karrington Charles, return on the defensive of the ball.

William Richardson begins his task of rebuilding the program at Richland Northeast. Some of the key performers this season on offense include senior athletes Amere Cherry and James McCann, sophomore athlete Theo Manning, sophomore running back D’marionne Wright, and junior lineman Tim Speaks

Lineman Gurnwy Brown will serve as a leader along the defensive front and sophomore linebacker Samson Sione shows great promise. Sophomores Ivan Willocks and Zack Watkins are players to watch in the secondary.


 

 

 

 

Region 5-AAAA Predicted Order of Finish

  1. North Augusta
  2. Airport
  3. South Aiken
  4. Irmo
  5. Aiken
  6. Midland Valley

Aaron Brand is in year two at Irmo and expects to have a bounce back year after finishing 3-7 in year one.

Offensively, junior Dylan Williams be the team’s quarterback this fall, with senior tight end Anthony Washington and senior receiver Kameron Green expected to be key performers.

Leading the way up front are seniors Langston Bryant, Davion Pyles and Chris Newren.

Up front on defense are returning senior Kaseem Vauls and junior Marcellus Lewis. Junior Nic Emmanwori will lead the secondary. Brand expect senior athlete Detrick Starkes and sophomore athlete Naazeikial Mays to fill vital roles on the defense as well.

Midland Valley hopes to improve on last year’s 1-8 season. The backfield will be the strength offensively with quarterback Brayden Batchelor, running back Joseph Smalls and fullback Brayden Hawkins. Devin Randall is a key returner at tight end.

Linebacker Kolby Tucker and end Michael Tiedman are key returners on defense. The secondary should be strong with Charles Evans, Alden Ennis and Alex Tucker all returning with experience.

“The Mustangs have the ability to take the next step in rebuilding the program,” head coach Kenny Freeman says. “Senior leadership will be key.  The offensive line must improve and the defensive unit must come together.  If we are able to minimize mistakes and everyone does their job on and off the field, we could have more success on Friday night.”

North Augusta has a new head coach as Jim Bob Bryant takes over a team that finished 5-6 a year ago. The Jacket return one of the top athletes in the region in 6-3 receiver/safety Jordan Wilburn. Senior Grayson Bridgers also returns as a receiver and senior Jacari Buckson will handle the running game duties. Junior Austin Harrell is the projected first-year starter at quarterback.

Seniors Joe DeLaughter, Cody Anderson and Grant Brown project as the leaders along the offensive front.

Anchoring the defensive front is 6-4, 255-pound junior Chase Tillman. Seniors Don Brown and Tae Boyd will be leaders at linebacker. Patrolling the back are seniors Terry Richburg and Eli Jarrard.

Airport won nine games last season but must replace a lot of their offensive weapons. Linemen Todd Hughes and Evan Byrd return with experience up front and Jeremiah Smith is a returning receiver.

Names on defense to watch include corner Jordan Rivers, linebackers Freedom Flemings and KJ Draft, and linemen Taahir Sabree and Jaiven Lykes.

Aiken posted just one victory last season but looks to be improved this fall. Seniors Phillip Collins and Zach Bailey return along the front. Rashad McMillan returns at linebacker and Garry Schneider will be back as an offensive tackle.

South Aiken will likely improve on last year’s 2-9 record, due in large part to the return of senior EJ Hickson, who threw for more than 1,900 yards and 17 touchdowns last season.

Jonathan Burns caught 27 passes for 406 yards last season. Defensive leaders include tackle Jabez Oliphant, end Ryan Gilmore and linebacker Micah Leverette.

 

Region 6-AAAA Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Myrtle Beach
  2. Hartsville
  3. West Florence
  4. North Myrtle Beach
  5. Wilson
  6. South Florence
  7. Darlington

It comes as no surprise that the Seahawks of Myrtle Beach are the favorite to win the region six title, though coach Mickey Wilson has a lot of production to replace defensively this fall.

Myrtle Beach is 24-2 over the last two years and lost in the AAAA state championship game to Wren last season.

Most of the experience returns offensively, starting at receiver where the Seahawks will be as good as any team in the state. Returning in the passing game are senior JJ Jones and junior Adam Randall. Jones, a verbal commitment to North Carolina, caught 40 passes for 654 yards and 14 touchdowns last season. Randall, who is already getting Power 5 college interest, had 20 grabs for 282 yards and three scores.

Junior Ryan Burger will step in as the full-time starter at quarterback. Burger took over the offense during the playoffs last season when starter Luke Doty went down with an injury. Burger ended up with more than 900 passing yards and nine touchdowns.

The leading returning rusher is senior Ben Herriott, who gained just under 250 yards in a reserve role last season.

On defense, experience returns along the front but not much at linebacker. Tyrone Miles tallied 57 tackles and 17 tackles for loss along the front. Kaden Arnold had 37 tackles and Shamerill Walker added 31 tackles along the front.

Senior Keltron Bessant is the most experienced linebacker. Returning in the secondary are Terrance Austin, Tre Baker and Tyron Miles.

The kicking game will be a strength as well with the return of Sullivan Hardin, who punted for a 39-yard average last season.

Hartsville returns 13 starters from a 10-4 team and should be a contender for the region title. The Red Foxes return their leading tackler on defense in senior middle linebacker Bailey Carroway (6-2, 245), who had 143 hits last season. Four seniors will start along the defensive line in Andrew Blakney, Keyshawn DolfordRashon Johnson and Chapman Parker. Returning in the secondary are seniors Zy’Riq Thomas and Shamal Jackson.

Offensively, senior Owen Taylor returns at quarterback. Taylor threw for 1,635 yards and rushed for 524 yards last season. Senior Dariyan Pendergrass is the most explosive player on the offense, racking up 831 rushing yards and 634 receiving yards in 2019. Sophomore J’Shawn Anderson rushed for 1,003 yards as a freshman.

Back along the front are senior Willie Galloway and junior Reggie Cabbagestalk.

North Myrtle Beach got off to a 5-0 start last season before limping to a 6-5 finish. Coach Matt Reel returns nine starters on a solid defensive unit.

Senior end Chase Simmons (6-4, 240) will anchor the front with high expectations for an all-state season. Senior linebacker Billy Barlow also returns, along with junior TJ Cox. Zyer Belle and Trace Hall return in the secondary.

Belle also will work on offense as a running back and wide receiver. Cam Freeman returns with experience at quarterback. Devin Montgomery and Nyliek Livingston will handle the load in the running game. Nick Moss will be a key receiver and Alex McGillicuddy leads the unit up front.

West Florence won 11 games in 2018 but slipped to 6-5 last season. The Knights will have quality skill people returning, starting with transfer running back Marshall Brown, a senior from Florence Christian School. Junior Terry McKithen also returns in the backfield.

George Derrick Floyd brings athleticism and a nice arm to quarterback and 6-5 receiver Avion McBride will be a big-play threat in the passing game.

Senior defensive end Semaj Johnson will be a key leader defensively, as will senior linebacker Ti’Kyse Miller and senior corner Nyke Johnson.

Wilson was 9-3 last season and senior Zayshaun Rice returns at quarterback. Rice threw for 2,395 yards and 29 touchdowns while adding 814 rushing yards with eight scores. Running back Chris Austin also returns after gaining 500 yards last fall.

Defensive leaders include linebackers Kalib Jones (65 tackles) and Josh Burks (41 tackles); safety Ahmad Bowman (69 tackles, seven sacks) and defensive end Shamaree Timmons (51 tackles, nine sacks).

Drew Marlowe is the new head coach at South Florence and has a handful of key players back from a 4-7 team. Sophomore LaNorris Sellers is back at quarterback and junior Tyae McWhite is a returning receiver. Last year’s leading rusher, Hahsaun Wilson, is out for the year. Sophomore Ty Martin will step into the role.

Senior lineman Kenny Frederick and junior linebacker Eric Cooper are the top returners on the defense.

 

Region 7-AAAA Predicted Order of Finish

  1. May River
  2. Beaufort
  3. James Island
  4. Hilton Head
  5. Colleton County
  6. Bluffton

Region seven has expanded this fall, adding May River from Class AAA and James Island from class AAAA. May River was a Lower State title threat in AAA the last two years and will enter the league as the team to beat this season.

The Sharks return athletic quarterback Ahmad Green to lead the offense. Returning to anchor the offensive line are Moxon Zehr and Garrett Bonneville. Last year’s tight end, Will Wilson, has moved to center while Jaden Jones is moving from linebacker to running back.

“With Ahmad at quarterback, and the experience on the offensive line, we feel like we have the chance to move the football,” head coach Rodney Summers said. “We missed a lot of time due to the pandemic restrictions but I think we’re catching up and ready to go.”

Anchors on defense include linebackers Eli Hall and Cade Carpenter.

Beaufort is the defending region champion, overcome an 0-5 start to finish 3-0 in the region last season. Second-year head coach Bryce Lybrand feels his team can be a contender once again.

Offensively, junior quarterback Tyler Haley will run the offense. Haley missed half of last season to injury but is a solid dual threat performer. Amariee Morris returns with experience as a running back and Terrence Wilson returns as the lone starter on the offensive line.

The defensive front will be a strength, according to Lybrand. The unit is led by sophomore Eamon Smalls, a 6-3 330-pound tackle who is already receiving major college interest. Also returning are Alvin Wilson, Theo Washington and Jeremiah Simmons.

Returning at linebacker are seniors Daniel Phares and William Winburn.

Hilton Head looks to improve on a 5-5 record in 2019. Coach B.J. Payne will look to returning quarterback Sam Summa to lead offensively. Lavarus Brown returns at running back and Evan Elliott returns at receiver. Anchoring the offensive line is Ryan Clark.

Junior outside linebacker Jaylen Sneed is one of the top prospects in the state with numerous major college offers. Linebacker Amare Ford, lineman Anders Kennedy and defensive back Jayden Gilliam return as defensive leaders.

Jamar McKoy is the new head coach at James Island this fall. Though slowed in development by Covid-19 restrictions in the summer, the Trojans should be quite competitive this season.

Senior Marion Champaigne will take the reins at quarterback this season and has a quality target in senior returning receiver Jaden Scott. Freshman athlete Amontre Scott is another key player to watch and junior running back Terio McKelvey is a returning starter. The top returning offensive lineman is senior Will Shealy.

On defense, senior inside linebacker Hunter Higgins will be a key leader, along with junior strong safety JaQuaan Wallace. Junior Keory Ancrum will step in at outside linebacker while juniors John Grant and Dez Lewis are solid book ends along the front.

Senior quarterback Narone Holmes and senior receiver Jorryn Simmons will give the Colleton County offense plenty of firepower this fall. Junior Jackie White (6-1, 218) adds to the mix as a versatile performer. Anchoring the offensive line is senior prospect Ian Shark (6-3, 280).

Senior linebackers Daryl Green and Lamontre Green will anchor the aggressive defense. Senior Jaheem Bellamy returns as a starting corner and senior Antawn Griffin is a starter at safety.


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