It's obvious now why North Augusta coach Joe Long always would smile whenever asked who would step in and fill the Yellow Jackets' hole in the backfield.
Long knew two years ago what everyone else now knows.
Junior running back Reggie Merriweather is for real.
Merriweather starred on the junior varsity squad two years ago as a freshman, but didn't play football last season.
"We missed him," Long said. "When he was a freshman, he was just running up and down the field at will. We were excited to get him back this season."
In four games, Merriweather has run for 666 yards and five touchdowns on 83 carries in helping the Yellow Jackets to a 2-2 start.
Long is hoping to take some of the pressure off of his star as North Augusta opens region play tonight at Orangeburg-Wilkinson.
"He's just a great running back," Long said of Merriweather, who captured Region 3-AAAA's 100-meter championship last spring. "We've got to get some of the pressure off of him now. We're go throw more and utilize our fullback. Reggie's already made a name for himself. He's just getting back to full strength."
The junior (5-foot-9, 190 pounds) missed two weeks of practice after injuring his knee in a scrimmage against Greenwood. Despite the injury, he managed to reach the 100-yard mark in the season's first three games. Against Lower Richland last week, he carried the ball 25 times for 232 yards and two touchdowns.
Merriweather scored on runs of 53 and 50 yards, helping the Jackets win 13-6. Long is hoping that his team is peaking at the right time.
"Outside of Aiken and Lexington, anybody can beat anybody on any given night," he said. "I think we have a good shot. If we can win all of our games before we play those two, we should be able to hang in there with them."
NEW SEASON: South Aiken joins Aiken and North Augusta in kicking off Region 3-AAAA play tonight. The Thoroughbreds are 3-1 after squeaking by White Knoll 10-9 a week ago.
South Aiken has turned its program around. The 29-game losing streak is history. Now, first-year coach Dan Pippin will try to erase a 21-game losing streak in the region tonight against Irmo (2-2).
Two of the Thoroughbreds' wins have come against new programs. Cross Creek is playing a varsity schedule for the first time, and White Knoll is in its first year of existence.
Irmo is led by senior all-state running back Andre Rose. The Yellow Jackets are coming off of a 33-7 win over Ridgeview last week.
"This is a tough region," Pippin said. "But our goal is the same. We just want to have a chance to be in the game in the fourth quarter. We've still got a long ways to go to get this program where it needs to be."
BACK IN ACTION: North Augusta will welcome Jay Harvey back to the playing field tonight.
Harvey, one of the team's top receivers last season, tore his anterior cruciate ligament last spring and was given the Ok to return to action by doctors on Monday.
EARLY IMPRESSION: Freshman Andre Young is now a full-time starter at receiver for the Jackets.
Young, who caught a 55-yard touchdown pass against Lakeside two weeks ago, is the younger brother of Anthony Young, North Augusta's former all-state quarterback now at Wake Forest.
NOTES: Silver Bluff has won 17 of its past 18 games. ... Aiken quarterback Corey Ready was 4-for-5 for 116 yards last week, his first game with more than 100 yards passing this season. ... Strom Thurmond trailed 6-0 at the half last week against Union, the No. 1 team in Class AAA, before the Yellow Jackets went on to win 35-7. ... Strom Thurmond coach Dusty Triplett is still searching for his first win.