If it seems like they are starting football earlier and earlier each year, it's because they are.
Yes, the 2005 season is here.
With the start of a new season there are always a few gaps to fill or questions to answer, and this fall is no different (well, technically it is still summer).
Last season's top dog in the county, Evans High School, must replace eight starters on offense alone. Including the All-County QB/RB/WR trio of Brad Freeman, Cheng Ho and Ryan Crislip.
All of which were three-year starters. They also lost marquee linemen Josh Gibbs, Nick Parr and Cliff Hancock.
The other high school teams in the county face similar problems.
Greenbrier must replace several key linemen as well as their top play-maker, Eugene Rogers, who is now at Liberty University.
Lakeside must fill the shoes of field general Jimmy Johnson and ball-hawking linebacker Reggie Porter.
And Harlem isn't immune. The Bulldogs must replace first team All-County performer Jeremy Larson.
Augusta Christian will field one of the more talented teams in South Carolina Independent Schools Association. They will be a team to watch.
Lakeside safety Chris Drayton chases down Jefferson County's Milton Reaves during a 2004 game. Drayton was picked for the 2005 Preseason All-County Defense Team.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
There is some light at the end of the tunnel. Parity in the county should be extremely high and we have some emerging young stars to keep an eye on. Evans and Harlem will start young quarterbacks, Kevin Millward and Brendan Gray, who should shine despite their youth.
And the group of linebackers in the county this season may be the best we've ever had. Greenbrier's duo of Reggie Rice and Eric Smith, Paul Miller at Lakeside, D.J. Ketchup at Evans and Harlem junior standout Maurice Dorsey are all college material.
So, as always, the task of choosing the very best the county has to offer is a difficult one. After pondering each roster for what seemed like weeks, here are the 2005 Columbia County picks for:
Columbia County Pre-Season All-County Team
First Team Offense
QB Lee Banks, Sr., ACS - Banks threw for over 800 yards and 11 TDs in 2004. Also, a very capable runner. Banks could carry the Lions deep into the SCISA Playoffs this season.
FB Jay Harmon, Soph., ACS - Harmon rushed for 528 yards and was named an all-state selection as a freshman.
RB Reggie Rice, Sr., Greenbrier - Rice moves to offense on a regular basis in 2005. Of course, he will get a few breathers so he has enough wind to perform on defense. As a junior he showed flashes of brilliance, including a three-touchdown game against arch rival Lakeside. He will still play linebacker on defense. He had 456 yards on 101 carries as a junior and runs a 4.51-second 40-yard dash.
RB Gabe Greer, Sr., Harlem - Greer should team with quarterback Brendan Gray to give the Bulldogs an outstanding one-two punch. Has a nose for the end zone. And should get plenty of opportunities to score in 2005. Was a second team All-County choice a year ago.
WR Kyle Hill, Sr., Lakeside - Hill is the returning leader in both rushing and receiving yards for the Panthers, and is the leading returning receiver in the county. The senior is used out of the backfield and creates match-up problems with smaller defensive backs.
WR Nolan Belcher, Soph., ACS - His 268 yards receiving are second-best by a returning player in the county.
TE Cal Morris, Sr., Greenbrier - Morris could be ready for a break-out year. He is a solid blocker and should be a favorite target of Sean Gray. Big-time strength.
OL Robert Clifton, Sr., ACS - Clifton will anchor the line for Bruce Lane's Lions. Last season they were one of the top rushing teams in the SCISA. 2005 should be no different thanks to Clifton.
Augusta Christian quarterback Lee Banks plays around with a camper at a recent camp for inner city youths at Pride Valley. Banks was picked for the 2005 Preseason All-County Offense Team.
OL Ryan Shuler, Sr., Lakeside - Shuler had an impressive summer workout schedule and is one of the more athletic linemen in the county.
OL Jay Adkins, Sr., Greenbrier - Adkins will be counted on heavily to lead the offensive line for the 'Pack. Adkins should get used to the running backs following his lead.
OL Mark Boiter, Sr., Harlem - Boiter and Mike White anchor Harlem's biggest offensive line in years.
OL Mike White, Sr., Harlem - At 6-foot-3, 265 pounds, he might have the most potential of any Harlem senior to play college football.
K Alden Fisher, Sr., ACS - Fisher is coming off a solid 2004 season. Is deadly accurate on short kicks and has really improved his distance for the 2005 season. He should have plenty of chances to kick with the Lions potent offense.
ATH Brendan Gray, Jr., Harlem - Gray is a great athlete with excellent speed and quickness. 2005 could be his coming-out year. He has looked great in the preseason for the Bulldogs. He will run their wishbone attack, and should pile up some rushing yards this season.
First Team Defense
DE Jermel Bennett, Jr., Lakeside - Bennett has a motor that does not stop. Another player that could really emerge in 2005. Gets overshadowed by teammates Paul Miller and Chris Drayton, but Bennett could put up some good sack numbers this season.
DL Will Grooms, Sr., Evans - Grooms anchors a defensive line that made a number of big plays for the Knights last season.
DL Will Nelson, Jr., ACS - Nelson collected two sacks and a forced fumble for the Lions last season.
DL Clayton Adams, Jr., ACS - Adams finished with 80 tackles, four sacks and two forced fumbles last season.
LB Maurice Dorsey, Jr., Harlem - Dorsey will get some major college attention before he leaves Harlem. He seems to be built to play the Linebacker position. Can be as good as he wants to be. Opposing offenses should find him before every play and adjust accordingly.
LB Reggie Rice, Sr., Greenbrier - Like Dorsey, should get plenty of college suitors this fall. May not be your typical size for a linebacker, but few play the position any better. Had 94 tackles in 2004, that number should go up this season.
LB Paul Miller, Sr., Lakeside - Another recruitable linebacker in the county. Really came on as a junior. Had 77 tackles last season including 16 tackles for a loss. I think he will have a monster season in 2005.
LB Eric Smith, Sr., Greenbrier - Tremendous strength. Has solid speed and virtually all the tools to play LB at the college level.
CB Charlie Kupar, Sr., Greenbrier - Another player that must be a joy to coach. Does all the little things right and works extremely hard. Do not let his small stature fool you. Kupar is not afraid to lay a lick. Also has good speed.
CB B.J. Savoy, Sr., Evans - Savoy will be counted on a great deal this fall. The Knights need him to make some plays. And there is no reason to expect he will not. Great closing ability at corner.
S Chris Drayton, Sr., Lakeside - Already with offers from Kentucky and Louisville, Drayton is the leader of Lakeside's defense. He makes plays all over the field and had four interceptions last year. He is listed by Sporting News as one of the top 200 players in the Southeast and by Rivals.com as one of the top 75 in Georgia.
S Matt Stark, Sr., Evans - Nursing an ankle injury to open the 2005 campaign, but should be back at full strength in a couple of weeks. Really hawks to the ball.
P Kevin Millward, Soph., Evans - Won the National Punt, Pass, & Kick competition as a middle-schooler and continues to get better. Won the top punting honor at Auburn's camp this off-season.
Second Team Offense
QB Sean Gray, Sr., Greenbrier
RB Kyle Meeks, Jr., ACS
RB Brian Gross-Bias, Sr., Lakeside
FB Erik Smith, Sr., Greenbrier
WR Matt King, Sr., Greenbrier
WR Trey Dove, Sr., Lakeside
TE Austin Greene, Sr., ACS
OL Tyler Werrick, Sr., Evans
OL Frank Morris, Sr., ACS
OL Ben Reynolds, Sr., Lakeside
OL A.J. Ortiz, Jr., Harlem
OL Byron White, Jr., Harlem
ATH Josh McDaniel, Jr., Evans
Second Team Defense
DL Kyle Williamson, Sr., ACS
DL Carlton Jackson, Sr., Lakeside
DL Ryan Alford, Jr., Evans
DL Kyle Meeks, Jr., ACS
LB D.J. Ketchup, Sr., Evans
LB Dillon Quick, Sr., ACS
LB Kyle Golden, Jr., Evans
LB Jay Harmon, Soph., ACS
DB Will Wright, Jr., ACS
DB Taylor Hensley, Jr., ACS
DB Josh Whitaker, Jr., ACS
DB Greg Martin, Sr., Evans
ACS - OL Bo Phillips, Jr.; WR Tyler Bourdo, Soph.
Evans - RB Junior Coley, Jr.; QB Kevin Millward, Soph.; TE Wes Baxter, Sr.; OL Jason Douglas, Sr.; DL Jonathon Harnish, Sr.; RB James Cullen, Sr.; WR Jonathon Nicely, Soph.; ATH Taylor Hooven, Soph.; OL Josh Warner, Jr; LB Tyler Leonard, Sr.
Greenbrier - DB William Bishop, Sr.; DB Bryan Sangster, Sr.; OL Rick Stahman, Jr.; DB/RB Lashawn Butler, Sr.
Harlem - RB Caleb Cosby, Jr.; OL Matt Pitchford, Jr.; LB Barry St. John, Jr.
Lakeside - DB Travis Azar, Sr.; WR Jason McCall, Sr.; LB Lance Driggers, Jr.; OL Andrew Hedman, Sr.; RB Jermal Holmes, Soph.; OL Kyle Tau, Soph.
Player of the Year:
Reggie Rice, Greenbrier
Reggie Rice has had a solid career thus far. However, this is the year he has been waiting on. He will get a chance to shine on both sides of the ball, starting for the 'Pack at running back and linebacker.
He rushed for more than 400 yards in 2004, but that number may triple this season. On defense, he recorded 94 tackles; that, too, should rise in '05. He may not be getting the offers that Drayton is getting, but he will put up enough numbers to propel him to Player of the Year status.
ACS (9-1) Experienced club that was a playoff team in 2004. Has most pieces of the puzzle in place.
Lakeside (6-5) I'll give Lakeside the nod in the county this fall. They return some talented kids on both sides of the ball.
Greenbrier (5-5) They have the best skill position players in the county, but they are thin at the line.
Evans (4-6) The Knights were the king of the mountain in 2004, but it will likely be a short stay at the peak.
Harlem (4-6) The Bulldogs have a great athlete to run their offense, but they will face a couple of stiff region foes.
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