Silver Bluff had the talent in 1998 to win a state title, but every time the Bulldogs loaded the bus to hit the road, they seemingly left that talent behind.
Preseason favorites in Class AA to win the state title, Silver Bluff lost tough road games to Class AAA power Fairfield Central, Region 6-AA rivals Edisto and Barnwell and ended its road woes with a first-round playoff loss at Batesburg-Leesville.
The Bulldogs finished a disappointing 7-4 with a senior-laden team in '98 and return only six starters, as head coach Al Lown again begins from ground zero.
Gone are fullback Nathaniel Mahoney, who moved on to The Citadel, and tight end Derek Rogers, who signed with Chattanooga. Patrick Moody's graduation left the Bluff void at the quarterback slot.
"It seems like we couldn't catch a break last year," Lown said. "We felt like if we'd played those games at home, we would have won."
Although the Bulldogs lost plenty of experience from last season's team, some talent remains and there is enough depth that Lown won't have to play a host of players both ways.
Senior running back Marcus Jones returns as the Bulldogs' top offensive threat after playing in only five games last season because of a knee injury against West Laurens at midseason.
Jones was Silver Bluff's leading rusher at the time and led the Bulldogs in rushing in his sophomore season. The 5-foot-10, 175-pounder is a Division I prospect with phenomenal speed, finishing runner-up in the 1998 Class AA 100 and 200 meters.
"He would've been our leading rusher last season if he didn't get hurt," Lown said of The Augusta Chronicle's 1999 track and field athlete of the year. "He's got unbelievable speed. I think he'll be a heck of a player on the next level, and I look for him to have a big year."
Jones will be the featured back as Lown returns to the Wing-T formation, abandoning the I-formation used a year ago in hopes of utilizing the Bulldogs' speed.
Freshman Deangelo Bryant is penciled in at starting free safety after turning heads in middle-school play. The 5-11, 160-pounder will get some assistance from sophomores Troy Williamson and Shawn Harris in the inexperienced-but-talented secondary.
Williamson qualified for the state track meet as a freshman and runs a 10.8 in the 100 meters. Harris is noted as one of the top sophomores in the state at linebacker.
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