Friday Night Lights

21 mins read

By Justin Jarrett

The Friday Night Lights will soon be shining in the Lowcountry. 

The excitement level is at an all-time high in northern Beaufort County, as new coaches have brought renewed enthusiasm at Beaufort High School and Beaufort Academy, a loaded senior class has Whale Branch Early College High School dreaming of a state championship, and a rejuvenated Battery Creek High School program looks to build off last year’s return to the postseason. 

Beaufort High opens its first season under former South Carolina star Devonte Holloman, who takes over for longtime coach Mark Clifford after three seasons as defensive coordinator. The Eagles host A.C. Flora at 8 p.m. Friday, but fans will be outside The Nest at 5:30 p.m. to begin tailgating and lined up at 6:30 p.m. for the Eagle Walk.

“We are bringing back the old school feel with a new enthusiasm and energy and creating a community feel for Friday Night Lights,” Beaufort High Big Green Booster Club president Ty Reichel said. “We are fresh, and we are pumped.” 

The other big game in the area on opening night will be in Seabrook, where Whale Branch hosts Battery Creek in the first of two meetings between the crosstown rivals this season. The Dolphins stunned the Warriors 23-0 last year en route to one of their best seasons in recent memory.

Beaufort Academy, bolstered by the hiring of Clifford, will have to wait another week to open its season against visiting Clarendon Hall on Aug. 24.

MORE BELOW: Check out full team previews for local high schools, provided by LowcoSports.com, below the photos.

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Photos above: Volunteers from the Beaufort High Big Green Booster Club painted parking spots for the pre-game tailgate in preparation for Friday’s season-opener against A.C. Flora. The booster club is selling reserved spaces for $100.

Beaufort High School

It’s not too often that a high school football team that graduated more than half of its starters comes back with even more confidence and enthusiasm, but that appears to be the case at Beaufort High School this fall.

Energized by new head coach Devonte Holloman, the Eagles are eager to begin the 2018 season and see if they can shake their reputation as a team that plays well in the regular season but bows out early in the postseason.

“I think it’s changed the program completely,” senior linebacker Will Kelley said of Holloman’s promotion after serving as defensive coordinator the past three seasons. “We’re working a lot harder, we’re in the weight room longer, we practice faster. Everything’s completely different.” 

The changes have gone beyond the field, too, including more community involvement and team-building.

“We didn’t really know what to expect, but we’ve got a lot more people out,” senior quarterback Jeffrey Smyth said. “We’ve worked a lot harder, and it’s going to end up with a better result.”

Indeed, the roster has swollen to nearly 100 players between junior varsity and varsity, giving Holloman plenty of options to replace the six starters lost on each side of the ball. The biggest holes to fill are along the offensive line, where every starter graduated.

“They’re coming along as expected,” Holloman said. “They’re still going to make some mistakes, but with time they’ll end up being a strength for us, if not this year, then next year.” 

The offense also has to replace All-Lowco running back Kyliek Middleton, who rushed for 1,260 yards and 15 touchdowns a year ago. Logan Adkins and James Dagin will carry most of the load in the backfield for now, but the Eagles will also open up the offense a bit and let Smyth try to get a talented receiving corps involved more.

“We’ll be a balanced offense,” Holloman said. “We’re still Beaufort High, so we’ll run the ball and we’ll play great defense, but you’ve got to be able to pass to be successful and compete against the best.” 

The Eagles will find out soon enough how they stack up against top competition. Holloman made a point to beef up the non-region schedule, including home games against Effingham County (Ga.) and Wayne County (Ga.) and a trip to powerhouse Valdosta (Ga.).  

“Something that’s happened to us the past couple years is we kind of walk through the regular season and then we get to the playoffs and kind of get hit with a different atmosphere, a different level of competition,” Holloman said. “It’s something I wanted to put our kids in early, that way when it comes playoff time they’re used to the environment and they’re used to playing strong teams.” 

BEAUFORT HIGH EAGLES FOOTBALL

Coach: Devonte Holloman

Record at BHS: 0-0 (1st season)

2017 record: 7-3 overall, 3-2 region, lost in first round of Class 4A playoffs

Returning starters: 5 offense, 5 defense

Offensive scheme: Spread

Defensive scheme: 4-3

Top returners: QB/S Jeffrey Smyth, DT Chase Guynup, LB Will Kelley

Notable losses: RB Kyliek Middleton, CB Reggie Jones, OL Isaiah Parker, DL Isaiah WIlson, OL Dylan Williams, OL Woods Langehans, LB Kegan Crowell, DL Reid Daughtry

Breakout candidates: RB James Dagin, WR Trae Heyward, WR Reed Reichel, RB Logan Adkins

PLAYER TO WATCH

Will Kelley, LB: The offensive stars tend to draw more attention, but perhaps the Eagles’ most exciting player is the leader of the defense. Kelley seems to be in on every play and “hits like a truck,” to quote teammate Jeffrey Smyth. 

BURNING QUESTION

Can the young offensive line get the job done? The Eagles lost seven senior offensive linemen. That’s all of them, if you’re scoring at home. How quickly their young replacements can get up to speed could determine how successful Beaufort High is this season.

REGION AND BEYOND

Region powers Berkeley and Cane Bay are gone and county rival Bluffton moves in, creating a four-team region that appears to be up for grabs. Every region game should be competitive, and the Eagles will be well-prepared by the time region play rolls around.

SCHEDULE

8/17 — vs. A.C. Flora

8/24 — at Battery Creek

8/31 — vs. Effingham County

9/7 — vs. Wayne County

9/14 — at Valdosta

9/21 — at Blythewood

9/28 — Open

10/5 — at Bluffton*

10/12 — at May River

10/19 — vs. Hilton Head High*

10/26 — vs. Colleton County*

*region opponent

Battery Creek High School

During his first season at Battery Creek, Walt Wilson talked a lot about the “old Battery Creek” – a mindset the Dolphins were trying to move away from. The transition might not be complete, but the transformation certainly is underway. 

After winning four games and reaching the Class 3A playoffs, where they nearly stunned Bishop England on the road, the Dolphins enter Wilson’s second season with a level of confidence not often found in Burton in recent years.

“Last year we laid the foundation,” senior lineman Myles Middleton said. “This year we know what we need to do. We’re ready to go.” 

Middleton is one of the anchors on a defensive line that figures to be a strength for the Dolphins, who had impressive defensive showings in a shutout of Whale Branch and region wins over Ridgeland-Hardeeville and May River last season. 

The offense returns plenty of weapons, including quarterback Jordan Gwyn, running back Trey Booth, and receiver Denarol Brown. The Dolphins averaged 33.7 points in their last three contests and expect to pick up where they left off. 

“We’re going to be in the end zone more often,” Gwyn said. “We’re going to surprise a lot of teams this year.”

Battery Creek won its last two regular-season games last season, then stormed back from a big early deficit before falling 32-26 at Bishop England, showing signs that the culture change is producing results.

“I always say to be disciplined means to be 5 out of 5,” Wilson said. “When I got there, Battery Creek was 1 out of 5. We got in the middle of the year last year, we moved up and got to about 2 out of 5, and then 3. Right now, we’re about 4 out of 5, but that still isn’t where we need to be. We need to be 5 out of 5 to have that consistency and mindset to understand what it’s going to take day in and day out.”

In other words, they’re close to leaving the old Battery Creek behind and putting together their first winning season since 2012.

“Some people might be shocked because they still have ideas about the old Battery Creek,” junior Brandon Wilson said. “But it’s not about who people come to see, it’s about who they leave talking about. I think they’re going to be talking about us.” 

BATTERY CREEK DOLPHINS FOOTBALL

Coach: Walt Wilson

Record at BCHS: 4-6 (2nd season)

2017 record: 4-6 overall, 2-2 region, lost in first round of Class 3A playoffs

Returning starters: 7 offense, 8 defense

Top returners: RB/LB/P/K Brandon Benke, TE/DE Brandon Wilson, RB Trey Booth, QB Jordan Gwyn

Notable losses: OL Byron McClain, DL Ahman Smalls, WR/DE Sayrend Musgrove Jr., WR Trey Chancey, OL Dizayuh Hinton

Breakout candidates: WR/FS Jordon Wilson-Smalls, OL/DE Myles Middleton

PLAYER TO WATCH

Jordon Wilson-Smalls, WR/FS: The state champion in the high jump could be a huge weapon on both sides of the ball for the Dolphins. He’s a major downfield threat and an ideal red-zone target for Gwyn.

BURNING QUESTION

How good can the Dolphins be in the trenches? There’s plenty of talent at the skill positions and lots of experience on defense, but the top two offensive linemen were lost to graduation, leaving an inexperienced group up front. If they can jell and hold their own, a winning season is well within reach. 

REGION AND BEYOND

Defending region champion Wade Hampton is probably the preseason favorite to repeat, but the Dolphins are among the most likely teams to unseat the Red Devils. We’ll know a whole lot more when Battery Creek hosts Wade Hampton on Sept. 21, which conveniently comes after an open week for the Dolphins, who should be fresh and ready to make a statement.

SCHEDULE

8/17 — at Whale Branch

8/24 — vs. Beaufort High

8/31 — vs. Hilton Head High

9/7 — vs. Woodland

9/14 — Open

9/21 — vs. Wade Hampton*

9/28 — at Creekside Christian

10/5 — at Lake Marion*

10/12 — vs. Ridgeland-Hardeeville*

10/19 — at May River*

10/26 — vs. Whale Branch

*region opponent

Whale Branch High School

They’re doing their best to avoid getting ahead of themselves, but it’s obvious when talking to members of the Whale Branch football team that something special could blossom in Seabrook this fall.

With most of their top players back from last year’s region championship squad and a roster loaded with 10 juniors and 15 seniors, the Warriors have high hopes for 2018.

“I see that we have potential to be something we haven’t been in the past,” coach Jerry Hatcher said. “I’m not going to look that far ahead because the wheels could come off, but athletically and physically, this is the best group I’ve had since I’ve been here.”

They felt equally confident going into last season before starting with four straight losses to fellow Beaufort County schools from larger classifications – Battery Creek, Beaufort High, Bluffton, and Hilton Head High. The district lifted the rule that required the Warriors to play all those teams, so the early-season schedule is a bit more favorable, but they’ll make up for it during region play. Whale Branch will compete in a loaded Region 5-2A along with powerhouses Barnwell and Bamberg-Ehrhardt, as well as strong programs in Allendale-Fairfax and Woodland.

The Warriors figure to be battle-tested by the time they get to the postseason, but they feel they can compete in the stout new region. They have to replace two key offensive linemen but have tons of talent returning in the backfield, including Wofford commit Irvin Mulligan, who earned first-team All-Lowco honors after rushing for more than 1,400 yards and 23 TDs last season.  Quarterback CJ Brown also is back, and the Warriors can plug in a number of other running backs to help carry the load.

“Irvin is Irvin, but what we have now is backs in the backfield with him who are very capable,” Hatcher said. “The people who complement Irvin are better than they were last year.”

The defense is a work in progress despite returning eight starters, Hatcher said, but there’s enough talent and experience back on that side of the ball to believe things will fall into place by the time region play starts Sept. 28. Until then, the Warriors will be focused on one opponent at a time and trying to build toward a deep postseason run.

“The goal is to get to Columbia, but we can’t talk about it too much,” senior Kyshon Hipp said. “Last year we talked about it too much and we fell off with that 0-4 start. This year we’re going to go out there and play. We’re not going to do so much talking.” 

WHALE BRANCH WARRIORS FOOTBALL

Coach: Jerry Hatcher

Record at WBECHS: 37-31 (7th season)

2017 record: 6-5 overall, 5-0 region, lost in second round of Class 2A playoffs

Returning starters: 7 offense, 8 defense

Offensive scheme: Split-back

Defensive scheme: 4-2-5

Top returners: RB Irvin Mulligan, QB CJ Brown, C Aaron Rhode, G Daquan Griswold, LB Jaheim Fripp, LB Kyshon Hipp, CB Taqui Polite, CB Jaheem Hazel, WR Trevaughn Hipp, S Marion Smalls, DT Jaquan Fripp

Notable losses: T Anthony McVay, G Carus Epps, CB Jordon Reeves, RB Roscoe Fields

Breakout candidates: RB/WR Jadon Grant, OT Xavier Chaplin

PLAYER TO WATCH

Jaheem Hazel, RB/CB: Hazel is overshadowed by fellow Wofford commit Mulligan, but he’s an outstanding two-way player. A lock-down cornerback, he earned All-Lowco honors with nine pass break-ups and five interceptions last season, and he will line up at running back and quarterback at times to give the Warriors another offensive threat.

BURNING QUESTION

Can the Warriors stop the run? Whale Branch’s defense had a bend-but-don’t-break quality last season, but an opportunistic secondary was usually there to come up with a turnover in a big spot. The secondary should be strong again, but there are questions about whether the front seven is ready to stop power running games like they’ll face in the region.

REGION AND BEYOND

Not to belabor the point, but this is a brutal region. Bamberg-Ehrhardt and Barnwell played in the Lower State final last season and will likely begin the year ranked in the top five in the state. Even the third-place team from the region will be capable of doing some damage in the playoffs, and don’t be surprised if three teams from Region 5-2A are among the last four teams standing in the Lower State.

SCHEDULE

8/17 — vs. Battery Creek

8/24 — at Cross

8/31 — at May River

9/7 — vs. Ridgeland-Hardeeville

9/14 — Open

9/21 — at Philip Simmons

9/28 — vs. Woodland*

10/5 — at Barnwell*

10/12 — at Allendale-Fairfax*

10/19 — vs. Bamberg-Ehrhardt*

10/26 — at Battery Creek

*region opponent

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