Jordan’s High School Preseason Observations
Guess what? No, not that. We made it! School is starting and we have made it through that odd time of year those of us in the radio business call “Talking Season”. We have broken down every college football roster and schedule we can. We have previewed every high school football team in our area. It is officially Week Zero, and in the spirit of the occasion, let’s utter the ever-eloquent words of our own Tyler Shugart.
Now that I got that out of the way.. During these last 2 weekends, which we will dub ‘Week minus two” and “Week minus one”, we have had several teams in our area compete in local jamborees. I was able to take in a couple of them, and while you never can put too much stock into what you see in a preseason scrimmage, there are definitely a few things that stood out.
In week Minus Two, Byrnes hosted the first leg of the McDonald’s Kickoff Classic, featuring Dorman vs Rock Hill and the Rebels vs Chester.
One of the things that held Byrnes back last season was injuries stacking up. Standout halfback Mack Long suffered a season-ending injury in their week 3 game against Dutch Fork. They had a very capable backup running back in Kanai Cook, but as the season progressed, he also found himself hurt, leaving everything up to the arm of senior QB Gabe Rogers and his biggest weapon at wide receiver – Kyai Cook.
This year, Long returns as a senior along with Kanai Cook. But, neither of the 2 played against Chester. Instead, RJ Livingston, a stocky yet strong and quick sophomore who stands at 5 foot 9 and 185 lbs, got the bulk of the carries. He showed the ability to be dangerous if you give him a seam big enough to burst through, and he is capable of being both a short yardage/3rd down type of back as well as a big play running back.
The Rebels will have a new QB this year in senior Colby Shaw, son of head coach Reggie Shaw. Gabe Rogers was a good passer for the Rebs these last 2 years, but really was not known for making big plays with his legs. Colby, on the contrary, has the ability to escape the pocket to extend plays and go through his progressions and he’s not afraid to tuck and run himself. He also has an accurate arm.
In general, this Byrnes team is exactly what we all come to expect. Speed and size all over the field, especially at the skill positions, a strong QB, a stacked rushing attack, good coverage corners such as Armoni Weaver (He had a couple of nice picks against Chester and plays well at receiver), and a stout linebacking corps.
Speaking of their linebackers, look out for Miquel Dingle Jr. He is speedy and capable of playing both inside and outside linebacker and is a threat both in pass coverage and as a run stopper up the middle.
Provided they can stay healthy and don’t get in their own way in big games this season, they are easily a threat to both Spartanburg and Gaffney in Region 2-5A.
Dorman enters this season with the challenge of having a new coach and a new system for the first time in nearly 30 years after the retirement of Dave Gutshall. But, new head coach Dustin Curtis isn’t walking into a bare cupboard by any means, with a lot of key pieces returning.
It is no secret that the strength of this Cavalier team is the offensive line. The Cavs’ offensive front features a couple of notable pieces in South Carolina commit Markee Anderson and UNC commit Dj Geth. With an offensive line that good, you can almost guarantee that they are going to get back to what made Dorman football so dangerous in recent years – being a power running team. While I did not get to see but a few minutes of their scrimmage with Rock Hill, that is exactly what I saw. The Cavaliers have Demarius Foster returning this season at halfback, and he was able to consistently get the edge on sweep plays and go for big yardage. There is little doubt that he will keep defenses on their heels and that will open up things for their passing game.
The big question mark besides the coaching transition for the Cavs is QB play. Hudson Talley returns as a senior this season. Talley has a very capable arm on him. But, last season, despite going 95-156 for over 1400 yards, he only had 12 passing TDs and averaged less than 150 yards per game. That is not entirely his fault. As stated earlier, when you are stacked at the line and have Demarius Foster in the backfield, you are going to naturally lean towards being more run-centric. But, I firmly believe that the key to Dorman being a contender this season lies on being able to balance their attack.
Talley is going to have to take advantage of the luxuries he has at his disposal – that stacked line and a run game that can wear defenses down, and take more shots downfield to bolster his confidence. Only when he is at his most confident will the Cavaliers be at their most competitive and truly find a balance.
The Cardinals hosted Pickens, Broome, and York in their annual “Cardinal Night of Football”. Blue Ridge and Berea were also supposed to be a part of the festivities, but a nasty tornado-warned thunderstorm ended up sending them home early.
Once things got underway after a long delay, Broome took on York. The Centurions will feature a fresh face at QB this season after Dylan Ramirez graduated (after what seems like 50 years. haha). Kamajay Brackett-Brannon, a junior lefty will be taking over the reins of the offense, and he is definitely different from what we have been seeing from Ramirez. While Dylan had the ability to run, he was more of a threat with his arm. Brannon is almost the exact opposite.
I am not saying he is a run-first type of QB, but he definitely is more geared that way right now. From what I have seen of Brackett-Brannon, he is able to scramble, but his being a lefty comes at a slight disadvantage. He doesn’t have the most accurate arm nor does he throw the best ball, going across his body and heaving upwards a lot when he goes back to throw, which resulted in a couple of picks against York.
Luckily for him, he won’t need to throw much anyway. The Centurions have a freshman running back that will be a name you best be getting ready to hear a lot of. Jaylin McGill is a dangerous three way player, taking snaps at halfback, middle linebacker, and as punt/kick returner, and the words fast and explosive do not come close to beginning to adequately describe him.
Against RS Central in the Centurion Classic this past Saturday, he took the opening kickoff all the way to the 2 yard line and then scored on a dive the next play. The next series, he busted loose on the first play from scrimmage and went 20+ yards for a TD.
You can’t read too much into a jamboree, especially when it is against an opponent you completely outmatch like RS Central, but based on the passing struggles of both Broome QBs (backup is Grant Bradley, a sophomore lefty who also does not throw the best ball), they will likely lean heavily on the running game.
Of note, Carlos Cohen, the team’s leading receiving threat last year, did not play in either jamboree.
Landrum took on the Pickens Blue Flame in the nightcap of the jamboree, and to be honest, they don’t have too many question marks entering this season. They return most of their roster from last season. They did lose Ethan Dugat and Jesse Bowers to graduation, but return such key guys as QB Titus Poore, wideout Beckett Driggers, and standout running back Colton Link.
The Cards continue to be a split back option team that uses a lot of movement and “window dressing” to disguise where the ball is going. From what I observed, I think depth will still be an issue for Landrum this season. They will also see their success so heavily tied to Colton Link’s ability to get the edge and go for big chunk yardage plays, sustaining long drives, and eating clock. Eventually, especially in that region, that could come back to haunt them.
Don’t get me wrong. They are a talented young team. But if they are too one dimensional and get to the point they are predictable, especially with so many playing all 3 ways and getting worn down, same as last year, they will see games slip away from them.
Boiling Springs is beginning a new era this year. So much so that rather than listing the ones returning, it is easier to just go over what I learned and saw.
Friday night, they scrimmaged Southside in the McDonald’s Kickoff Classic at Gaffney. All offseason long, Coach Reel had been bragging on the work ethic and effort the Bulldogs were giving in the weight room. I can confirm that they do look a little more bulked up from the undersized young squad that was getting manhandled all last year. That was a glaring hole that needed to be plugged if the Bulldogs were going to have any hopes of not having another rough year in 2022 now that the 5A “gang” is all back together in one geographically sensible region.
Boiling Springs is still a very young team with a lot of guys that are not the tallest, particularly in their defensive backfield. So much so that I set the bar a little low for this year with them. After what I saw Friday night, although it was against a Southside team that they outmatched, I am actually a bit more encouraged that they really will be at the very least more competitive and entertaining to watch.
The Bulldogs have an active QB battle that has yet to settle between sophomores Zy Landrum and Lincoln Husky. Neither one showed too much of their hand as far as their passing abilities go, and that definitely begged the question as to whether or not we will see yet another year of mostly 1 dimensional run-centric offense.
The Bulldogs will still feature a strong running game this season with senior running back Kam Williams, their leading rusher from last year in the backfield. (Of note- Carmelo Martin, who led the team in rushing TDs in 2021, left the team to focus on track, a personal decision based on the fact that track is the sport he has the most chance of getting big scholarship offers for.)
Williams had a couple of explosive runs, 2 of them for TDs on read option pitches where he easily got the edge and went down the near sideline thanks to some stellar blocking from wide receiver Amayjai Boyd). The Bulldogs’ lone passing TD in the 21-0 shutout win came on a swing pass out of the backfield from Zy Landrum to HB Javen Chhim, who cut back to the middle of the field after a nice block on the edge from wideout Spencer Eison and bursted in between 4 Southside defenders for a 15 yard score.
All in all, what I have seen affirms my thoughts that Matt Reel has Boiling Springs on the right track, and that should make Bulldog fans hopeful that they can get to being able to contend with the likes of Spartanburg, Gaffney, and Byrnes within the next 3-5 years.
Gaffney took on Independence (Charlotte) in the 2nd scrimmage of the night in what was actually a much more thrilling and surprising game than I originally thought. I honestly thought Gaffney would just go out and trounce them. Instead, it was a dogfight down to the last :40 of the game.
A couple of things stood out as surprising. Independence drew first blood. That isn’t the most shocking thing about it, though. The thing was how they did it. In 2021, Gaffney’s defense was so dominant that you could not run the ball against them. They had one of the best linebackers in the state in Landon Bullock patrolling the middle of the field. Gaffney still has a nasty linebacking corps, featuring the #1 inside linebacker in the state in senior Brayshawn Littlejohn (what? A littlejohn playing for Gaffney? haha). But, Independence had their way with them running the ball all game long, particularly up the middle. There was one instance late in the game where the Independence QB tucked and ran up the middle when all his receivers were covered for almost 15 yards. From the opening drive where the Patriots went 75+ yards in 8 plays for a TD, it was evident Gaffney was struggling.
Another thing that stood out as surprising was that Gaffney really got off to a slow start on offense. Their first drive of the game ended on a pick in the endzone when Grayson Loftis rolled out to his right under pressure and threw basically right to the safety in the corner of the endzone. It took the Indians up to the 4:30 mark of the 1st quarter to finally score on a 48 yard TD run by “Suga” Jeffries.
Independence answered with another long drive, capped on a 6 yard fade to the near corner of the endzone for a TD with 3:00 to play. But the Indians finally found their groove in the 2nd quarter, scoring 14 unanswered featuring a much more confident Grayson Loftis. On one TD pass, he escaped the pocket and rolled to his left and found Emazon Littlejohn (yep. Another Littlejohn) in the back of the endzone on 3rd and goal from the 5 to tie it at 14. They took the lead with :38 to play on a 15 yd TD pass from Loftis where he just threaded the needle in tight coverage.
Gaffney may have struggled in this one, but you cannot read too much into a jamboree. All in all, the Indians will be just fine. They are still loaded and they are still easily favored to maybe meet the next team, possibly for the region title and for the upperstate championship.
Saving possibly the best performance I saw this preseason for last.. The Spartanburg Vikings. Mark Hodge has the Vikings back and well ahead of schedule. Regardless of your opinion, that is good for high school football in our area. It means the Dorman-Spartanburg rivalry is intense again. It means that in the region where everyone is pretty much “Everybody’s rival”, it is guaranteed to be extra tough.
Last season, the Vikings were 2 drives away from a very different end to the season. Raheim Jeter threw a pick in the endzone right before the half. In the 2nd half, the Vikings went right down the field, but the drive stalled and they missed a field goal. They left 10 points out there and Gaffney went on to take off and win the Upperstate title (and then the state title).
If there is one thing you can be assured of with Mark Hodge, that has not been forgotten, and right now, the Vikings look scary good.
In the Centurion Classic on Saturday, the Vikings took on Mallard Creek (Charlotte) in a mid morning showdown, and to be honest, the only thing hotter than the humid air in Royal Stadium that morning, was the Viking offense.
Spartanburg returns Raheim Jeter at QB, who threw the ball well even though they did not take many deep shots on Saturday, Drek Carter at running back (who rushed for 2 TDs and had 1 receiving TD), the reliable handsy Hunter Renfrow-like Andrew Dantin (a receiving TD against MC), and the strong and speedy Que Moore at receiver (who had one of the more impressive displays of YAC I have ever seen, carrying a defender on his back 15 yards on one play and stutter stepping his way into a long gain down the sideline on a screen pass to set up a pair of TDs for Drek Carter).
Essentially, you could say the Vikings have not missed a beat from last season, which is a terrifying thought for opposing defenses in region 2-5A and beyond.
Aside from the big names on offense, look out for junior Wide Receiver Ra’el Senghor to make a splash this year and sophomore Justin Rice. Also get ready to hear the name Rah’Keith (Keke) Kelly, who has the potential to be a superstar for the Vikings, and if he gets some playing time this season, could give a good glimpse into the future for Viking fans.
Spartanburg has the bodies up front, playmakers everywhere, and the depth that really sets them apart. And again, while you should never overreact to a jamboree, this roster up and down to me is easily one that says they should be back in the upperstate championship this year. But, the question is whether they can get over their new hump – it used to be Boiling Springs when Hodge first came along. Then it was Dorman. Now, the last hurdle to clear is beating Gaffney, They may have to do it twice this season. But they have the guys to do it. The question is whether or not they will.
Now that the preseason is out of the way, enough previewing, predictions and roster breakdowns. Talking season is over. Friday night it counts and I could not be any more excited. The best football in South Carolina is played right here and I could not be more excited for the season!