BENNETTSVILLE, S.C. – Marlboro County coach Dean Boyd has been waiting for a season like this. He sure doesn’t want to experience what happened during the past two seasons when the Bulldogs went a combined 7-13.
"It’s been hard. I ain’t gonna lie to you,” said Boyd, who has directed Marlboro to two state championships. “We’re one of the smallest schools in 4A. It’s hard to compete and contend, but we have a lot of tradition here. We’re not going to make excuses. We’re going to line up and play and not lighten up on our schedule. But I do feel good about this team. We hired eight new coaches, and we have a lot of young guys with passion and intensity, and I think that’s what’s been missing the past couple of years.”
This year’s team, however, is one Boyd thinks can take the Bulldogs back to prominence.
“Skill-wise, I think we can play with a lot of people. We’ve got a lot of work to do on the offensive line, but I think our people are pretty good overall, and, I think that gives us an opportunity to be in some games that we may not have been in in the last year or two.”
Elijah Blair returns as the Bulldogs’ quarterback after throwing for 1,540 yards and 12 touchdowns last season.
“I think he understands the offense better, for sure,” Boyd said. “Last year was his first full year as the starter. But he has a whole year under his belt now. He knows what we’re looking for, offensively, and he understands the offense, and that’s going to help him a great deal.”
At running back, D.J. Hicks is one to watch.
“He looks the best, and I think D.J is going to be a special player,” Boyd said. “He has great size and a great work ethic, and he wants to be a good football player. He’s working to achieve that.”
At receiver, Iyon Williams headlines that corps after accounting for 696 yards and eight touchdowns last year.
Rictavius McInnis is another one to watch, as is Tyrek Eaddy. All the Bulldog receivers also have Super Bowl champion and South Carolina Football Hall of Famer Charlie Brown to tutor them.
“They understand reading coverages better,” Boyd said. “We’re strong on the offensive side of the ball there, but it won’t do any good if we can’t get the ball to them because we don’t have time.”
And that leads to the Marlboro offensive line situation. There isn’t much experience there.
“We’ve got to make things simple and give the offensive line time to develop,” Boyd said. “And once they develop, we’ve got the chance to be pretty good on the offensive side of the ball.”
Nose guard Shamar Sprattling is showing signs of promise.
“He’s just a bull,” Boyd said. “He’s strong and is going to demand double teams, and that can free up linebackers.”
Marquez Johnson was moved to tackle.
“He’s quick, but also strong and has a little weight on him,” Boyd said.
Another key player on the line could be Scotland County (N.C.) transfer Dashawn Zimmerman.
“He can really help us there,” Boyd said.
Ismael Sloan could be a huge asset at linebacker as a junior.
“He’s all over the place,” Boyd said. “Sometimes, he’s too fast. But, he’s always around the football.”
In the secondary, Jamiek McCoy could be a key player.
“He’s able to understand the game better after so many reps,” Boyd said. “He’s a good cover corner who has speed and a lot of passion for the game.”
Zach Rogers will return as the place-kicker.
“He’s gotten stronger and better,” Boyd said. “Last year, from 25 in, we didn’t think we could get a field goal last year. But this year, it looks like we are going to be able to do that. And he’s just a junior."
At punter, Williams will handle those duties.
“Putting Iyon back there will put some stress on the return team,” Boyd said. “If you decide to come after it, you could be in trouble, because that kid has some special skills. He can run or kick or throw it.”