During the offseason, we’ll check out one team per week that looks like a sure bet to be among the best in the nation for next fall.
This week’s team: Byrnes (Duncan, S.C.)
Projected 2012 Preseason Ranking: Top 25. In South Carolina, the road to a large-class state championship runs through the town of Duncan. The Rebels, who have won 11 titles, will be seeking a third straight crown and ninth in the last 11 years. Entering last season, the concern was the quarterback spot for the pass-minded, high-octane offense. But sophomore Shuler Bentley, son of former Byrnes coach and current district athletic director/Byrnes offensive coordinator Bobby Bentley, took charge and that spot looks secure the next two seasons. Byrnes avenged its regular-season loss versus Gaffney with a 31-24 win in the state final. Twelve starters from that squad were underclassmen.
Team Strengths: Six starters on each side of the ball return to the lineup for Byrnes. The offense is anchored by the all-star passing combination of Bentley to junior wide receiver Akia Booker. In his first varsity season, Bentley passed for 3,495 yards and 47 touchdowns with only seven interceptions, Booker, who’s also a dangerous kick returner, caught 80 passes for 1,284 yards and 21 touchdowns last season. The offensive line will return three starters in junior Nathan Taylor and sophomores Ben Clark and Sydney Martin. The secondary is the strength of the defense with four starters expected back in juniors D.J. Henderson, Keke Ashmore, Brandon Bailey and Shane Samuels. Juniors Alex Garrett and Melvin Armstrong anchor the linebacking corps.
Another South Carolina team to watch: Goose Creek (Goose Creek, S.C.) was one of the better teams that just missed getting a spot in the final POWERADE FAB 50. The Gators capped a school-best 14-1 record with the Class 4A, Division II championship and were a Southeast Region bubble team. Goose Creek, which went 13-1 in 2010, suffered only a 52-51, double-overtime loss to University (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.).
The Gators bring back sophomore running back Caleb Kinlaw, who rushed for 1,497 yards this past fall; junior receiver Tramel Terry, who caught 44 passes for 833 yards and six touchdowns and ran for 847 yards and 10 touchdowns; and junior defensive end Gerald Turner, who has offers from the likes of South Carolina and Clemson.