At long last, the high school football season kicks off Friday night in the Lowcountry and around the state.
Here are five top storylines to watch as the season unfolds:
1. Quarterback shuffle
More than a dozen Charleston-area teams will have new faces at quarterback this season. Most of those changes came due to graduation, but a few were the result of players transferring from one local school to another.
• Gunnar Nistad, who led the area in passing yards at Porter-Gaud last season, has transferred back to his former school, James Island Charter.
Nistad played at James Island as a sophomore. His move back to James Island coincided with Porter-Gaud head coach Rick Reetz taking the offensive coordinator’s position at the school.
• Will Daniel, the quarterback at Bishop England before getting injured in 2018, has moved to First Baptist for his junior season. Daniel gives the Hurricanes a solid passing threat and a more balanced offense.
• Myron Wigfall, who quarterbacked the First Baptist offense last fall, has moved to Pinewood Prep for the 2019 season. Wigfall, a senior, played at Cross High two years ago.
2. Life without Mikey
No school lost a more productive player than First Baptist, which enters 2019 having to replace all-state running back Mikey Dukes.
Dukes, now pushing for playing time at Clemson, rushed for 8,762 yards and 117 touchdowns during his five seasons as a starter at First Baptist, including three consecutive 2,000-yard rushing seasons.
His exploits put First Baptist football, a program that was on life support just six years ago, on the map. First Baptist has been able to attract a bevy of local players from other schools because of the success of Dukes.
With Will Daniel arriving at quarterback, along with a host of solid receivers led by Appalachian State commitment Sincere Brown, the Hurricanes will score points.
Junior Ravenel, a senior, will team up with eighth-grade sensation Davion Brown at running back.
“One guy can’t carry the load like Mikey did, but between the two of them, I feel like we will get a lot of production,” coach Johnny Waters said. “We are definitely more of a threat in the passing game and we will be more balanced. We will put up numbers, just in a different way.”
3. Budding rivalry
A true rivalry is built up over years of competition but one budding Lowcountry rivalry is the one developing between Timberland and Oceanside Collegiate.
Last season’s showdown for the Region 6-AA title was the first meeting between the two schools. Timberland won that game, 34-14, proving it is still the top Class AA team in the Lowcountry.
Since Art Craig took over at Timberland in 2001, the Wolves have posted 11 seasons of double-digit wins and won two state titles.
Before Oceanside Collegiate can think about contending for a state championship, the Landsharks must first compete with and beat Timberland. If the two schools remain in Class AA over the next few realignment cycles, there could be some great battles for region titles.
Both teams will begin the season ranked among the top 10 in Class AA, and will likely remain ranked until they meet on Oct. 25.
4. Fort Dorchester focus
It’s apparent that the 2019 Fort Dorchester Patriots are the deepest and most talented team in the Lowcountry. Coach Steve LaPrad compares the talent level to the 2015 team that went 15-0 and won the Class AAAA state title, the school’s only state championship.
The coach is interested to see how this year’s team handles the preseason hype, and if the Patriots can maintain the necessary focus and intensity level over the course of the season.
If the Patriots can meet their coach’s expectations, a chance to compete for a state championship is in the offing. However, there are enough challenges on the schedule to test the Patriots, and if they take a night off emotionally, they can be beaten.
5. Must-see matchups
For every team and every coach, every game is a big game. But a handful of upcoming games stand out among the rest during the 10-week regular season.
• The Aug. 23 contest between Summerville and Woodland has a host of storylines.
Summerville, the much larger Class AAAAA school, agreed to play the Class AA Wolverines on Woodland’s home turf. It’s the first-ever meeting between the two schools that are separated by about 25 miles.
Summerville is retooling after heavy graduation losses while Woodland is one of the top AA teams in the state with several college prospects.
• Fort Dorchester will travel to Viera, Florida, on Sept. 6 for a rematch of a game played last year in North Charleston.
The Patriots won that game, 31-28, but the visiting Hawks put up more than 500 totals yards. Viera quarterback Bryce Norton, a junior, threw for 327 yards and rushed for 158 yards in defeat.
• First Baptist will try to prove its worth as a SCISA Class AAA team when it visits perennial power and three-time defending state champion Hammond on Sept. 27.
The two schools met twice last season with Hammond winning, 28-21, during the regular season, and 40-7 in the state championship game.
• Berkeley visits Goose Creek for an Oct. 11 matchup that could end up deciding the Region 7-AAAAA title.
Berkeley is the defending region champion and Goose Creek looks poised to be much better than last year’s 4-6 team.
• Oct. 25 is the date for the Region 6-AA showdown between Timberland and Oceanside Collegiate. The winner of this game sets itself up for solid playoff positioning.
Friday's Key Games
Stratford at Timberland
Coaches: Dennie McDaniel, Stratford; Art Craig, Timberland
Key players: Stratford—WR Demarius Anderson, LB Mason Lord; Timberland—DE Jamaal McKinney, Timberland; DT Sam Moultrie.
Notes: Stratford defeated Timberland, 21-6, last season and is 3-0 all-time against the Wolves ... Timberland coach Art Craig has posted 17 consecutive winning seasons and has at least 10 wins in 11 of his 18 seasons as head coach.
Shelton's prediction: Stratford 20, Timberland 16
Summerville at Woodland
Coaches: Joe Call, Summerville; Eddie Ford, Woodland
Key players: Summerville—LB Luke Taylor, RB KJ Rollins, Summerville; Woodland—WR Lavel Davis, QB/LB Rylan Ashe.
Notes: First-ever meeting between the Dorchester County schools in football ... Summerville finished 11-3 last year, reaching the state semi-finals ... Rollins is top returning rusher for Green Wave ... Davis is a Virginia commitment and considered one of the state’s top three receivers in 2019.
Shelton's prediction: Summerville 21, Woodland 15
Glynn Academy (Ga.) at Fort Dorchester
Coaches: Rocky Hildago, Glynn; Steve Laprad, Fort Dorchester
Key players: QB TJ Lewis, Glynn; DE Caldon Mattox; RB Kalil Jenkins, Fort Dorchester; LB Darryle Ware, Fort Dorchester.
Notes: Fort Dorchester won last year’s meeting, 37-21, but later had to forfeit the win due to ineligible player…Patriots are 60-8 since 2014…Fort Dorchester begins the season as the third-ranked team in Class AAAAA.
Shelton's prediction: Fort Dorchester 35, Glynn 20
Summerville at Woodland
Ashley Ridge at Goose Creek
Glynn Academy at Fort Dorchester
Baptist Hill at Oceanside
Cane Bay at West Ashley
Stratford at Timberland
Academic Magnet at Northwood Academy
Scott's Branch at Manning
Carver's Bay at Waccamaw
Burke at Cross
Colleton County at Lakewood
Philip Simmons at St. John's
Military Magnet at Lake Marion
First Baptist at North Florida Christian
Florence Christian at Porter-Gaud
Pinewood Prep at Ben Lippen
King's Academy at Dorchester Academy