Last year, a Region 8-AAA championship and third-round playoff appearance proved that Hanahan can compete at the Class AAA level after 28 years in Class AA. This season, the Hawks’ challenge will be maintaining their spot at the top.

“It’s hard to stay at the top once you get there,” Hanahan coach Charlie Patterson said. “(But) we’re hoping to be better than we were last year. We want to win the state championship. That’s our goal, and we feel like that we have guys that can compete at that level.”

The return of 10 defensive starters should help counteract the offensive void left by RB Octavius Hayes, WR Mario Gates and QB Anthony Smalls, a North-South selection last year.

The postseason fate of Orangeburg-Wilkinson, Berkeley, James Island and Hilton Head in 2012 was not determined until the last week of the regular season, and a similar situation could unfold this year.

Stall, meanwhile, aims to improve upon a winless Region 8-AAA campaign.

Berkeley Stags

2012 RECORD: 5-7

COACH: Jeff Cruce (third season)

RETURNING STARTERS: 8 (3 offense, 5 defense)

PLAYERS TO WATCH: WR Dylan Baker, S Josh Simmons, OL Sterling Fiddie, LB Brandon Williams, RB Josh Sellers, QB Joseph Dress, WR Deion Williams, WR DJ Witherspoon, DE Lablac Winfield.

NOTES: The Stags lost six of their first seven games last year before using a midseason turnaround to secure a playoff berth. Fans are eager to continue that upward swing and avoid a third straight losing season. “Being at a place like Berkeley where football is important, the goals are very high,” said Cruce, whose squad will feature 29 seniors. “We are trying to get back to a championship-caliber team.”

Hanahan Hawks

2012 RECORD: 11-2

COACH: Charlie Patterson (fifth season)

RETURNING STARTERS: 14 (4 offense, 10 defense)

PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB Mason Schwerzler, WR Terrell Green, RB Quan Wade, OL Jacob Billings, DB Marlon Washington, LB Lyndon Young, DL Vontrell Grant, LB Ronald England.

NOTES: Schwerzler, Green and Wade will shoulder the load on offense. “I think we have the talent to replace what we lost last year,” Patterson said. “It’s just unproven at this point. If they pan out like we think they can, then we’ll be as good or better than we were on offense last year.”

Hilton Head Seahawks

2012 RECORD: 5-6

COACH: B.J. Payne (second season)

RETURNING STARTERS: 14 (6 offense, 8 defense)

PLAYERS TO WATCH: RB Khalil Lewis, DT Poona Ford, DB John Baty.

NOTES: The departure of QB Michael Julian, who now plays for the University of Toledo, will carry a heavy impact on the Seahawks’ approach. “Our offense will change a little bit and we will run the ball more,” Payne said. “You don’t just replace a Michael Julian-type athlete, so you alter your offense to your strengths.”

James Island Trojans

2012 RECORD: 4-6

COACH: Randy Hilyer (third season)

RETURNING STARTERS: 12 (5 offense, 7 defense)

PLAYERS TO WATCH: TB Buss Hamilton, TE Andrew Hutto, DE/NG Henry Edwards, ILB D’eandre Streat, LB Ryan Green, QB Ty Stubbs.

NOTES: The Trojans lost three games by a combined 11 points last year, so Hilyer has spent the summer emphasizing the need for stronger finishes. “We don’t need guys to be superhuman, (but) just (to) play consistently to the level we know they can and witness in practice,” he said. “If we get 11 guys doing that on both sides of the ball, we can have a good year.” James Island will open its season against Wando for the second straight year.

Orangeburg-Wilkinson Bruins

2012 RECORD: 6-5

COACH: Tommy Brown (sixth season)

RETURNING STARTERS: 14 (8 offense, 6 defense)

PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB Austin Bradley, DL Albert Huggins, WR Wally Tarte, RB Tyshaun Butler, DE Randall Haynes, LB Jonathan Hagood.

NOTES: O-W comes off a campaign in which it advanced to the playoffs for the first time since 2006. In order to repeat that success, the Bruins will need to overcome the loss of versatile standout Jadar Johnson, who is now at Clemson. After the season, Brown will coach the South Carolina squad in the 2013 Shrine Bowl.

Stall Warriors

2012 RECORD: 2-8

COACH: Johnny Boykin (third season)

RETURNING STARTERS: 14 (7 offense, 7 defense)

PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB/WR Jordan Carswell, DB/WR Adario James, DL Andrew Seay, OL John Simpson, OLB/TE Dominique Richardson, DB Elijah Junior.

NOTES: Boykin’s holistic approach to the season involves building a foundation with an eye to the long term. “This is a total team effort from our administration to our community,” he said. “We will continue to invest in our recreational programs, our middle schools and our students at (Stall).” And while expressing cautious optimism for 2013, he also acknowledged a lack of depth. “We need to stay healthy to be competitive this year,” Boykin said.