Soon, there won't be any need to ask, "Are we there yet?" In days, the excitement of a season's first drills and scrimmages will give way to the Friday Night Lights, officially starting the 2017 football campaign. Each of the Myrtle Beach Sun News' 12 teams have aspirations of winning a state title — a right reserved for only a select few. Their respective paths to glory already mapped out, here is a look at what lies ahead.
— Joe L. Hughes II
Grand Strand football
- Will Chuck Jordan be cleared to coach?: Assault charges against longtime Conway football coach Chuck Jordan following an on-campus incident involving him and a 17-year-old student were dropped on Aug. 3, less than a week after practice began for the Tigers ahead of the 2017 season. He remains on administrative leave with pay, however, his status for Conway's season opener at Georgetown still in flux. Until matters are resolved, 25-year assistant Carlton Terry will serve as interim head coach.
- New faces, new places: A new era has begun for four Grand Strand area football programs. Matt Reel takes over a talented bunch at North Myrtle Beach after a deep run through the playoffs under Blair Hardin, while Shane Fidler is the new head man at Waccamaw. A pair of legends North Carolina high school coaching legends have inserted themselves into the local gridiron landscape as well, with Donnie Kiefer at Green Sea Floyds and Joey Price taking the reins at St. James.
- Will Mother Nature (again) put the season on hold?: In 2015, the "1,000 Years Flood" put a halt to high school football on the Grand Strand. A year later, the area felt Hurricane Matthew's wrath, Mother Nature again grinding the season to a standstill. Could the same happen once again this year? This is one storyline that may underwhelm, or unfortunately deliver.
- Transfer of power in place?: Myrtle Beach won the battle a season ago, but rival North Myrtle Beach took the war by earning the Region 7-4A crown via tiebreaker — and the home playoff games that came with it. After a deep playoff run, the Chiefs believe they can become a consistent player in the region title race. They can prove it by unseating Myrtle Beach as the league's top dog.
- Surprise, surprise: Each season has its share of surprises. Last year, it was Conway, North Myrtle Beach and Carvers Bay each making deep playoff runs, while Georgetown made the postseason in Ken Cribb's first season at the helm. Who will be this year's surprise team? Aynor seems to be a prime candidate, with Socastee not far behind.
Around the Palmetto State
- Running of the Horses: Each of the past three seasons have finished in similar fashion for South Pointe — the Rock Hill powerhouse celebrating yet another title. With many pieces back from last season's championship team, South Pointe is a heavy favorite to make it four in a row.
- Dutch Fork aims for repeat performance: Despite the departure of quite a collection of senior contributors, the Silver Foxes' cupboard remains rather full. Though breaking in new talent at quarterback and wide receiver, Dutch Fork's recent history shows finding bodies to fill those spots — and play at a high level — should not be a problem.
- Final act for Fort Dorchester's Joyner: Rarely has Dakereon Joyner tasted defeat during his time at Fort Dorchester, so one must wonder what the South Carolina commit has in store for his final act as a Patriot. Over the course of the past two seasons, he has 6,840 passing yards with 74 touchdowns, while rushing for 2,113 yards and 30 more trips to pay dirt.
- 'Just like old times!': Last season, the Upper State 5A semifinal round had a familiar theme — it featured teams solely from Region 3-5A, formerly members of the vaunted Region 2-4A. The only league that came close to accomplishing a similar feat was Region 5-2A, which sent three teams to the Lower State semifinal round. It would surprise no one to see it happen once again, as Boiling Springs, Byrnes, Dorman, Gaffney and Spartanburg are evenly matched — and possibly a head above everyone else in that half of the state.
- Pulse of two dynasties: If a pound-for-pound title were handed out among the Palmetto State's powerhouse programs, Abbeville would likely be its current holder after winning consecutive Class 2A crowns. While the Panthers adding a third is not out of the question, another dynasty hopes to reclaim its air of invincibility. Dillon's quest for a record fifth state title in a row was snuffed out last December in the Class 3A final by Chapman. The Panthers have the athletes to get back on top — but the question is, will they?
- Conway (8-5, 4-1 Region 6-5A; lost to Fort Dorchester in Lower State 5A semifinal round) : As if losing a veteran starter at quarterback to graduation wasn't enough, an air of uncertainty surrounds the Conway football program — specifically longtime coach Chuck Jordan. However, this Conway team has enough talent to navigate through the season in relatively good shape.
- North Myrtle Beach (11-2, 3-1 Region 7-4A; lost to Chapin in Lower State 4A semifinal round): Sure, the loss of Blair Hardin on the sideline will hurt, but a cupboard chock full of talent should allow the Matt Reel-era to begin with a bang.
- Myrtle Beach (9-2, 3-1 Region 7-4A; lost to A.C. Flora in first round of Class 4A playoffs): This team may start slow based on a tough non-region schedule, but expect the Seahawks to round into form as the 2017 season moves along.
- Carolina Forest (6-5, 2-3 Region 6-5A; lost to Summerville in first round of Class 5A playoffs): While the mass exodus of last year's senior class will hurt, the presence of a veteran quarterback in Matt Beale should help a young group of Panthers quickly gain their footing.
- Carvers Bay (9-4, 5-1 Region 7-2A; lost to Barnwell in Lower State 2A semifinal round): One of three area squads to advance to the Lower State semifinal round, the Bears return a bevy of offensive weapons that'll help it in Region 7-2A.
Outlook: Sumter has ruled Region 6-5A with an iron fist the past several years. Is this the year a team can dethrone the Gamecocks? PREVIEW
Carolina Forest Panthers
While youth may rule the day, head coach Marc Morris' philosophy remains the same — 'We must run the football.' PREVIEW
An air of confidence prevails in the Conway locker room despite the turmoil surrounding the Tiger football program. PREVIEW
After taking their share of lumps the past few years, the Braves have something they haven't as of late — optimism. Can Coach Illing's group return to the playoffs after a brief hiatus? PREVIEW
Outlook: A surprising result in the final week of the season left the league in a three-way tie. Is a similar fate in the cards for 2017 as well? PREVIEW
Myrtle Beach Seahawks
After a disappointing end to the 2016 football season, Myrtle Beach returns with added motivation — and a number of holes to fill. PREVIEW
North Myrtle Beach Chiefs
Sure, there was change in leadership atop the North Myrtle Beach football program. Does that mean expectations have lowered for the kids in Little River heading into the 2017 season? Think again. PREVIEW
St. James Sharks
Merely two years removed from a watershed moment for the program, St. James finds itself in a total rebuild following a winless 2017 season. There is a silver lining, though — a proven winner has been given keys to this reclamation project. PREVIEW
Outlook: For at least one season, the gap between Dillon and the rest of Region 6-3A — along with the rest of South Carolina, for that matter — narrowed just a bit. While that may have been the case, expect these 'Cats to land firmly on their feet. PREVIEW
Aynor Blue Jackets
There isn't an off night in Region 6-3A. But with experience and skill on their side, Aynor believes it is more equipped to compete in 2017. PREVIEW
Three of the program's better seasons behind it, a young Georgetown squad looks to add another bone to the collection. PREVIEW
Making the playoffs is old hat for the Loris football program. After a down year by its standards, the Lions are getting back to their roots in hope of rekindling the flame of success. PREVIEW
A challenge awaits new coach Shane Fidler, taking over a program that won a single game last season. Brick by brick, he's hoping to build something special. PREVIEW
Outlook: Carvers Bay caught Region 7-2A by surprise last season, claiming a share of the league title. It'll be much tougher to duplicate the feat in 2017. PREVIEW
Carvers Bay Bears
The 2016 football season marked a revival of sorts for Carvers Bay, the Bears earning a share of the Region 7-2A title and a pair of playoff wins. However, coach Nate Thompson believes this year's team might need to be better if it hopes to contend for a league crown. PREVIEW
Outlook: A league featuring the defending Class A champion along with another perennial powerhouse has become stronger with the addition of a North Carolina high school coaching legend. PREVIEW
Green Sea Floyds Trojans
Change is a common theme in the Trojans' camp, but it is suiting new head man Donnie Kiefer just fine. PREVIEW
Top players of 2017
- Gunner Britton, Conway (Sr., OL): A two-time member of The Sun News' Toast of the Coast offense, the Western Kentucky commit was part of an offense last season that racked up nearly 5,000 yards of total offense.
- Lawson Cribb, Myrtle Beach (Sr., QB): In his first full season under center, the Seahawks quarterback completed nearly 62 percent of his passes for 2,717 yards and 22 touchdowns.
- Tyler Gore, North Myrtle Beach (Sr., WR/DB): The Georgia State commit intercepted three passes during the 2016 football season, taking one back for a touchdown. He also had 35 tackles — seven of which came for a loss — along with two forced fumbles.
- Tonka Hemingway, Conway (So., DL): Already netting scholarship offers from college football's heavy hitters — among them South Carolina, Clemson, North Carolina and Georgia — the rising sophomore is eager to improve on a 15-tackle, three-sack debut.
- Kwame Livingston, North Myrtle Beach (Sr., DL): The Chiefs defensive lineman racked up 80 tackles — nine of which came for a loss — along with nine quarterback sacks.
- Juwan Moody, Conway (Sr., WR): Last season, the East Carolina commit caught 31 passes for 623 yards and nine touchdowns, averaging better than 20 yards per reception in doing so.
- Raiqwon O'Neal, Conway (Sr., OL/DL): Being courted by more than 30 schools, the versatile 6-foot-5, 265-pounder has the ability to excel on both lines of scrimmage, showcasing this summer at a number of camps.
- Janaz Sumpter, Carvers Bay (Jr., QB/DB): A breakthrough performer for the Bears, he had nearly 1,300 all-purpose yards and 19 touchdowns to go along with 34 solo tackles and two interceptions.
- Andrew Wilson, Loris (Sr., DL): The centerpiece of a physical Loris defensive line a year ago, the rising senior had 60 solo tackles and tied for the team lead in sacks (3).
18 — Conway at Georgetown: There is a chance Conway could take the field without coach Chuck Jordan for the first time since 1983. Despite having criminal charges of third-degree assault and battery dismissed, Jordan is still on administrative leave with pay following an on-campus incident.
19 — Myrtle Beach at Byrnes: A pair of perennial powerhouses collide in Duncan, a year after Myrtle Beach ambushed its Upstate foes en route to a 35-19 win a season ago — setting the tone for Byrnes' worst season in a few decades.
25 — Charlotte Christian (N.C.) vs. Myrtle Beach (at Brooks Stadium, Coastal Carolina): Before Coastal Carolina kicks off its first season of major college football, Myrtle Beach gets its opportunity on the "Surf Turf," welcoming North Carolina private school powerhouse Charlotte Christian to the Grand Strand.
8 — Hartsville at Conway: Hartsville has long been recognized as a Palmetto State gridiron powerhouse. After a deep playoff run and a number of returnees back in the fold, Conway hopes to end a four-game skid against the Red Foxes and add a statement win to its résumé.
8 — Myrtle Beach at Socastee: Few things will add fuel to a rivalry quite like a blowout. Socastee faithful have yet to forget last year's 70-0 loss at the hand of rival Myrtle Beach. The Braves have the hated Seahawks in their building this year, hoping to score a measure of revenge.
14 — Myrtle Beach at Carolina Forest: Myrtle Beach makes its way west on U.S. 501, renewing acquaintances with Carolina Forest. Quarterback Matt Beale performed well in last year's contest, but in a Panther loss. In his final shot at the rival Seahawks, expect the dual-threat signal caller to be at his best.
21 — Conway at Myrtle Beach: The past two meetings for the Victory Bell — held at The Backyard in Conway — were muddy affairs, the latter of which was won by Myrtle Beach, 13-8. Don't expect such to be an issue this year, being played on the FieldTurf at Myrtle Beach's Doug Shaw Memorial Stadium.
22 — Andrews at Carvers Bay: Region 7-2A play starts with a bang as Georgetown County rivals seek to get a leg up on the rest of their league foes. Last season, Carvers Bay earned a 20-0 win, which came in handy later as the Bears claimed the region's top seed via tiebreaker.
28 — Myrtle Beach at North Myrtle Beach: It still takes a little getting used to this game being played midseason instead of its typical spot at season's end. At least the game comes first on both teams' Region 7-4A schedules, giving the winner an inside track to a league title.
6 — Georgetown at Lake City: It took overtime to settle the score between these Region 6-3A rivals a season ago, a game which inevitably decided the league's No. 2 spot. It would not surprise any if the stakes were just as high this time around.
13 — Marlboro County at Myrtle Beach: Myrtle Beach flew into Bennettsville last November expecting to put a bow on a Region 7-4A title, but instead left with its first loss and a road playoff game. Memory of that loss resides rather prominently in the minds of Seahawk players and coaches, and this meeting offers the opportunity to make amends.
20 — Conway at Sumter: It took three overtimes to decide last year's contest between these two teams — and as fate would have it, the result gave Sumter the edge en route to a Region 6-5A title. The stakes ought to be similarly as high this season when the teams meet at Sumter's Memorial Stadium in Week 9.
27 — Carolina Forest at Conway: In much the same fashion it took to decide its loss to Sumter a season ago, Conway found a way to get past rival Carolina Forest. The teams once again will match wits to end the regular season, this one taking place at The Backyard in Conway.