Here is a look at our preseason rankings of Lakelands high school football teams:
The Panthers, who went undefeated in 2018, remain the top team in the Lakelands and will be aiming to capture a fifth consecutive state championship this season.
Abbeville defeated Barnwell 48-14 in the state championship game last season behind a dominant rushing attack led by star quarterback J.D. Moore. The Panthers figure to still be a run-first team, but Moore has made significant strides in his throwing this summer. He posted a 4.4-second 40-yard dash and had the highest vertical leap at a recent camp.
After back-to-back nine-win seasons, Greenwood took a step back and finished fourth in Region 1-5A with a 7-4 record. The Eagles were dominated by Dorman, 52-0, in a first-round playoff loss.
Still, the Eagles have plenty of talent. Greenwood had five players selected to the All-Lakelands football team in 2018. Three of those players return to the field in 2019. The Eagles relied heavily on the run game last season with running back Trequan Shabazz. Vince Coates and Ahmari Coats are two players who could play big roles in the passing game.
Saluda has been a model of consistency over the past few years in Region 2-2A, and the Tigers came on strong toward the end of last season.
Led by All-Lakelands quarterback Noah Bell, Saluda played in its third consecutive third-round playoff game but fell to Southside Christian. Defensively, the Tigers will aim to replace Raquon Hartley and C.J. Bosket, who set Saluda’s all-time interceptions record.
The Hornets went undefeated in Region 1-1A and 9-2 overall before capturing two playoff victories and making an Upper State championship appearance. The Hornets, however, will have to replace several players, including star running back Deiveon Donald, Chandler Smalley, Dawson Glenn, Hikeem Lewis and kicker Bradley Nickles.
There are many changes surrounding the Ninety Six Wildcats following a strong 2018 season.
Matthew Owings is entering his first season as head coach of his alma mater, and he’s tasked with replacing several key players, including Index-Journal Player of the Year and quarterback Kentavius Williams, along with running back Tae Brown.
Williams and Brown helped power the Wildcats to a second-place finish in Region 2-2A, behind eventual state champion Abbeville. Senior running back Josh Booker is an important returning player who figures to also make an impact in the secondary this season.
The surplus of youth talent should help the Chiefs take a step forward in 2019. Rising freshman A’Chean Durant, the brother of former star running back and current Duke player Mataeo Durant, will see plenty of snaps in the backfield, along with Zi Holloway.
McCormick will also have a freshman quarterback in Sudarian Harrison, who starred alongside A’Chean on McCormick’s middle school team last year.
The Hawks had a historic season in football last year, making the playoffs with a school-best 7-2 record. Greenwood Christian will depend on four seniors — Gabe Stumbo, Will Campbell, Luke Ergle and Carter Johns — for leadership and continued success this season.
Despite having plenty of offensive firepower with Luke Deal and Kedarren Dean making plays at quarterback and running back, Emerald struggled defensively and took a step back in 2018, finishing fourth in Region 3-3A with a 3-8 record.
It’ll be a tough task for the Vikings to replace Deal, Dean, Nick Sheetz, Zack Amerson, Ben Ross and Jamil Martin, and they’ll look to rising junior quarterback Zacoyeis Elmore to lead a triple-option offense this season.
A growing roster could be the key to a turnaround for the Hornets’ football program this season. One of the Hornets’ new players is Alan Pedraza, a rising junior who has been an All-Lakelands soccer player the past two years.
Ware Shoals will also welcome rising freshman Ethen West.
There are still some unknowns on how Ware Shoals’ roster will fill out, but they will have key returns in running back Jermarius Goodman and quarterback Jake Calvert.
Calhoun Falls has had struggles with roster size, and that was no different last season.
The Flashes dressed just 22 players and failed to record a win. Still, 22 players is an improvement from the 2017 season, and if Calhoun Falls can continue to grow its roster, the team will be in better shape moving forward.