By David Shelton
Special to The Post and Courier
The official start of the 2016 high school football season is July 29th, when schools around the state begin practice for the upcoming season.
But football never really ends. The sport has become a year-round venture of commitment. Shortly after a season ends, offseason weight training begins – usually in January. The workouts continue through the winter and early spring months, leading up to spring practice in May.
Early in June begins the summer 7-on-7 passing leagues and competitions, which can include local, statewide and national competition. For some, the passing leagues continue through mid-July. Stratford High will be hosting an eight-team, two-day competition beginning on Tuesday – the final competition in the Lowcountry.
And it’s never too early for a preseason top 10 ranking of Charleston area teams:
1. Fort Dorchester
2. Goose Creek
4. West Ashley
5. Cane Bay
6. Ashley Ridge
10. Bishop England
Fort Dorchester, led by veteran head coach Steve LaPrad, is coming off a perfect 15-0 season that culminated in winning the Division I-AAAA state championship. The only thing certain in 2016 is Fort Dorchester will not repeat as a AAAA state champion.
This year marks the initial year of a fifth classification in the South Carolina High School League. Fort Dorchester, as one of the state’s largest schools in enrollment, will compete in the state’s largest classification – class AAAAA – and will be one of the favorites to win the first-ever state title in that division.
Armed with junior quarterback Dakereon Joyner, who will be a third-year starter, the Patriots should again one of the area’s most explosive offensive teams. However, there were four starting seniors along the offensive line last season, including All-American guard John Simpson, now at Clemson.
Fort Dorchester should be very good defensively, led by returning tackle Khalid Katz, end DeAundre Peterson, and linebacker Kenneth Brown.
A bevy of teams could begin the season as the second-ranked team in the area but the safest money is on Goose Creek. Chris Candor begins his second season as head coach and will have one of the area’s top playmakers offensively in running back/wide receiver Tyriq Martin.
Senior safety Jeffrey McElveen returns as the team leader defensively.
Goose Creek also will move into class AAAAA this fall, along with West Ashley, Stratford, Wando, Ashley Ridge, Summmerville and James Island.
Fans should expect that all six of those programs will be improved this season. West Ashley returns the top rusher in the area in 2015, senior Dexter Freeman. Stratford should rebound from a disappointing 2015 with several key defenders back, along with senior transfer quarterback Hunter Taylor from Summerville.
The Green Wave look to bounce back from a bad year and return to normalcy now that interim head coach Joe Call is the official boss this fall. Sophomore quarterback Jonathan Bennett is a star on the rise and senior Cam Burnette is a college prospect at receiver.
Wando boasts the area’s – and perhaps the state’s – top senior prospect in receiver OrTre Smith. The Warriors will have to improve defensively if they hope to contend in the new AAAAA region.
Ashley Ridge has perhaps its most athletic team in school history but will be filling a major void at quarterback.
Timberland, the winningest program in the Lowcountry over the last dozen years, will again be winning at a high rate. Coach Art Craig fielded one of the state’s top AA teams over the last 12 years but will climb into the AAA ranks this season, joining a region that also includes Hanahan and Bishop England.
Bishop England has solid experience returning on both sides of the ball and should be able to adjust to the step up from AA. Hanahan returns senior quarterback Victor Colbert and running back Jerry Bailey.
Cane Bay, with a returning backfield tandem of quarterback R.J. Roderick and running back Kris Copeland, will be a major factor in the AAAA region. The Cobras also return solid experience defensively this fall.
Berkeley has a new coach in Randy Robinson and plenty of athletes to contend with Cane Bay in the AAAA region. Senior quarterback Darius Douglas is one of the area’s top passers and the Stags should be improved defensively, though that remains to be seen. The one sure bet with Berkeley is the Stags will punt this fall.
Among SCISA schools, expect championship contending seasons from Porter-Gaud and Pinewood Prep in AAA, and Northwood Academy in the AA ranks.