South Carolina high school football fans may be in for one the most exciting seasons in recent memory, and with good reason.
Aiken High has a legitimate shot at bringing home the Class AAAA Division II title as it returns a talented corps of juniors and a handful of seniors.
The Hornets finished 1998 at 7-6 and lost in the second round to Walterboro. While they are young, the Hornets have gained experience and could wreak havoc on opposing teams.
And in Region 6-AA, both Barnwell and Silver Bluff for the first time may have trouble locking up the top spots, as Edisto looks to add its name to the list of region powers. The Silver Bluff Bulldogs may rekindle a rivalry with Bamberg-Ehrhardt as former Bulldogs coach Butch Jacobs takes over for the Red Raiders.
Jacobs won two Class AA state titles while at Silver Bluff between 1989-92 before heading to Thomson High, and he will attempt to turn around a program he helped to demolish.
Trouble is brewing in Spring Valley again, as Michael Boulware (6-2, 208) tries to guide the Vikings back to the same prominence they held when his older brother, Peter Boulware, played there.
The older Boulware, who went on to star at Florida State and now plays for the NFL's Baltimore Ravens, was on the 1992 team that beat Aiken High before the Hornets went on to claim the state title. The younger Boulware has received national attention and probably will play safety in college.
Wilson High (Florence) will become a defensive backs nightmare in 1999 as Darian Durant, the state's top quarterback, frequently will toss to the state's premiere wide receiver, Isiah Harley (5-11, 175 pounds). Durant (6-0, 215) threw for more than 2,100 yards as a junior and is being eyed by many college scouts. Harley reeled in 58 catches last season and is aided by a talented receiving corps.
The following is a look at the top teams in each classification:
AAAA: Summerville will look to repeat a 15-0 state title performance with John McKissick, who owns the national wins record with 459 wins, still at the helm. All-state quarterback Nick Spearman and running back Bernard Rambert are gone, but junior Bennett Swygart will step in for Spearman, and Jonathan Smalls will anchor at running back.
Class AAA: Daniel, the 1998 state champion, returns as the favorite and again will have 1998 runner-up Manning lingering in the midst. Fairfield Central will look to bounce back after falling to Daniel in the semifinals, and Strom Thurmond and Midland Valley will try to evolve from Region 4-AAA to make noise.
Class AA: Barnwell and Silver Bluff both missed golden opportunities in 1998 as they fell to Batesburg-Leesville, which lost to Emerald in the last minute of the state championship game. Emerald again will stage a power attack.
Class A: McCormick will look to challenge Calhoun Falls first for the Region 1-A title then the state title. Calhoun Falls won the title last season and again will be pushed by a strong Johnsonville team in the upper state. Blackville-Hilda also will be in the hunt as a mixture of talented upperclassmen return.