Summerville and Goose Creek once again look like state championship contenders in high school football this season, but the Gators and Green Wave are not the only teams worth keeping an eye on.
The Post and Courier's top 10 high school football teams in the Lowcountry:
2. Goose Creek
5. Ft Dorchester
6. Ashley Ridge
9. West Ashley
With competitive battles in every region shaping up, here is The Post and Courier's preseason Top 10:
When: Thursday and Friday, 5 p.m.
Where: Johnson Hagood Stadium
Tickets: $12 each
Thursday: Porter-Gaud vs. Lincoln; Baptist Hill vs. Cane Bay; Hanahan vs. Summerville; Stratford vs. Timberland; James Island vs. St. John's; Goose Creek vs. West Ashley.
Friday: Academic Magnet vs. Stall; Palmetto Christian vs. Garrett; Burke vs. First Baptist; Pinewood Prep vs. North Charleston; Northwood vs. Military Magnet; Wando vs. Bishop England.
Coach John McKissick returns for his 63rd season with 613 career victories. The coach has the best offensive line in the area and quite possibly the state, led by All-American candidate Zack Bailey, a recent USC verbal commitment. The Green Wave also have a three-year starter at quarterback, Sawyer Bridges, and a pretty stout front seven on defense. Summerville should easily reach double figures in wins this season.
2. Goose Creek
The Gators might have been ranked No. 1 had it not been for a season-ending knee injury to senior quarterback Pedro Manigault. While Goose Creek has a capable replacement in junior Dominique Jefferson, the offense will not be as dynamic without Manigault. Goose Creek still has one of the area's top running backs, Tyrik Johnson, and the Gators are big and strong on the defensive front.
Hanahan enters the season without a proven quarterback, but the Hawks will be as athletic and solid defensively as any team in the area. Junior Dominique Green and senior Corbin Heyward are big-time defenders along the front. Senior corner DeAndrea Thompson had six picks a year ago. Sophomore receiver Sam Denmark is the major playmaker offensively.
The Knights have a new head coach as Joe Marion takes over for Ray Stackley, who retired after 29 years and 270 wins. Marion was the school's defensive coordinator since 2000 and has his entire staff returning. Senior Jamison Mobbs has big shoes to fill at quarterback, replacing last year's Mr. Football, Jacob Park, but Stratford should be solid along the offensive front. Expect the Knights to get better as they go and contend for the Region 7-AAAA title.
5. Fort Dorchester
No team in the area will have more athletes lining up than Fort Dorchester. The Patriots have a dynamic playmaker at quarterback in senior Kobe Garrett and should be stout on defense, led by senior nose guard Eurndraus Bryant, a 6-2, 320-pounder. This could be the year coach Steve LaPrad's club makes a major move toward double digit victories.
6. Ashley Ridge
Head coach Kenny Walker feels good about an offense led by junior quarterback Steven Duncan and senior running back Tyler Garland. Duncan (6-4, 205) played at Porter-Gaud last season, throwing for more than 3,000 yards. He is considered a major college prospect. Garland topped 1,000 yards on the ground as a junior. The Swamp Foxes will have to improve defensively over last year and Walker feels that will happen.
Jeff Cruce enters his fourth season seeking his first winning campaign at the perennial powerhouse and thinks 2014 is his best team overall. Senior quarterback Joseph Dress runs the show and gives the Stags a solid dual threat. The defense should be led by a solid defensive front.
The winningest program in the Lowcountry over the last 10 years (111 wins) will once again near double figures in wins. Coach Art Craig will rely heavily on an athletic, fast defense led by Johnell Brown and Wyatt Craig, while a young offensive line matures. Senior Ryan Hood has experience at quarterback.
9. West Ashley
The Wildcats were two plays from winning eight games last season and coach Bobby Marion believes this is his best team since he took over in 2007. Transfer quarterback Justin Berry will make an immediate impact, says Marion, but the Wildcats need some first-year starters to step up.
Led by one of the state's top senior prospects, lineman Michael Barnett, the Wolverines will be solid defensively. Senior Drake Knight is back as the starting quarterback and the Wolverines have been impressive during the preseason. Woodland moves into a new region, Region 5-AA, which should be more competitive and make Mathis Burnette's team battle-tested for the postseason.