Bulldogs kick off the regular season Friday night
Ready or not, it is about time to kick off the 2017 season. Marlboro County will do so Friday night at home against Carvers Bay High School from near Hemingway.
"It is hard to believe it is game week," said Marlboro County head coach Dean Boyd on Monday. "We look forward to it all year, but this last few weeks have been a blur."
Having only three weeks to put together a team is difficult, especially with the complexity of modern offenses.
"It really wouldn't be possible if not for what we are allowed to do in spring practice and summer passing leagues," said Boyd.
It has only been in the last four or five years that South Carolina high school teams were permitted to have full contact during the spring.
During the summer, high school teams are allowed to participate in 7-on-7 passing leagues, where they can install much of their offense and defense.
"Playing Week 0 adds to the challenge. We really only had two weeks of preseason practice before jumping into game week," said Boyd.
Week 0 is what coaches call the week before the official start of the season, which is typically the last Friday in August.
Having limited time before the first game gives teams that return a bunch of experienced players an advantage. That isn't this Bulldog team.
Marlboro County is replacing two-year starting quarterback Jacob Evers, plus his top two receivers, Myrone Williams and Decosta Ford.
The Bulldogs have new faces at running back where Dylven Covington was battering ram for the team the last two seasons. Only two starting offensive linemen return.
On defense, only a handful of experienced players are back and several of them are learning new positions.
That is not to say that the Bulldogs don't have the talent to make last season's 5-6 record a distant memory. However, with a brutal schedule that includes some of the top teams in the Pee Dee / Grand Strand area, as well as Scotland County, nothing is going to be easy.
Scouting the Bears
Carvers Bay started last season by putting a scare in the Bulldogs.
Marlboro County held a slim lead late in the fourth quarter when the aforementioned Covington took control.
He finished with a career-high 263 yards on 23 carries as the Bulldogs pulled away for a 29-12 win.
The Bears bounced back the next week by defeating Class AAAA Georgetown and lowly Waccamaw. After a loss to North Myrtle Beach, they won five of their last six regular season games, claiming their region's title.
They made it to the third round of the Class AA playoffs before falling to Barnwell.
Much of the talent from that team returns to coach Nate Thompson's team this year.
Janaz Sumpter, who played at quarterback, receiver and running back last year, is the full-time quarterback this year.
Sumpter is a dynamic runner and adequate passer. His primary target is senior receiver Tyrik Reed.
The featured running back is Myrtle Beach transfer Toronto King. He rushed for 363 yards on 55 attempts and six TDs last year for the Seahawks.
Their top linemen on both offense and defense are Emmanuel Tatum and Jaquan Reed.
The leaders of the defense are linebackers D'Quarius Pressly and Quevon Dickerson. Dickerson is a relentless pursuer while Pressly is the big hitter and run stopper.
Keys to the game
Carvers Bay's first eleven are as good as Marlboro County's. However, the Bears play most of their stars both on offense and defense, with very few breaks.
Last year, the deeper Bulldogs were able to wear down Carvers Bay to the point that, in the fourth quarter, Marlboro's fresher players became dominant.
The sooner the Bulldogs can exhaust their guests, the better. If it remains close into the fourth quarter, the Bears have the talent to pull off the upset.
Tee it up
The Bulldogs and Bears will open the season at 7:30 at McAlpine Stadium on the campus of Marlboro County High School.