Coaches playing it safe for tough CNB Kickoff Classic

Friday’s 24th annual CNB Kickoff Classic is a great way for coaches to get a good read on their team.

But Tuesday’s 24th annual CNB Kickoff Classic press conference – where coaches from all 10 participating teams gathered to mix and mingle with the media and one another – not so much.

All football coaches are guilty of playing it close to the vest in the preseason. Why raise expectations for fans and players who already have unrealistic goals for their team and school?

But this group is notorious for trying to use the element of surprise, even for a preseason jamboree. Even first-year Socastee coach Doug Illing seemed like an old veteran of the CNB coaches showcase.

“I’ve been trying to humble them a little bit,” said Illing, who has been coy about any changes he might make to last year’s 12-1 squad. “They’ve been getting a lot of pats on the back for what they did last year, but we’re trying to tell them you can’t rest on the past. You’ve got to get better.”

The Braves will open the 6 p.m. CNB Kickoff Classic at Doug Shaw Memorial Stadium against Aynor, which had a costly scrimmage with Socastee last week. Star quarterback Nathan Peeples suffered a season-ending injury, prompting the Blue Jackets to go back to the basics with their spread offense.

“I’m not going to lie to you; we were going to sling that ball all over the place (this season),” quipped Aynor coach Jody Jenerette, who applied for the Socastee job before withdrawing. “Just like that we were back to playing football in a phone booth.”

The highlight of the presser was St. James coach Mark Fischer, who won his battle with cancer during the offseason. He said is he feeling a renewed sense of commitment to the program, and so are his players, who will face Waccamaw in the second game.

“Last year didn’t go as we had planned,” said Fischer, whose team went 3-7 after he was diagnosed with cancer during preseason training camp. “We had a couple of distractions, but the kids grew from it.”

Perhaps the highlight of the CNB Kickoff Classic will be Game 3 between traditional power Conway and up-and-comer North Myrtle Beach. The Tigers had a rare losing season in 2012, while the Chiefs went 5-5 after snapping a 24-game losing streak.

“This is the first time in four years that I can say we don’t have a young team,” said North Myrtle Beach coach Perry Woolbright. “It’s a good sign when you have more players driving themselves home from practice than waiting for their parents to pick them up.”

Indeed, the Chiefs return 17 starters while the Tigers are trying to overcome several key losses, including four-year starting quarterback Mykal Moody. This contest could be the most interesting of the night.

Carolina Forest takes the field for Game 4 against Green Sea Floyds. The Panthers return a ton of talent on offense but coach Drew Hummel knows the defensive side of the ball will be the key for Carolina Forest to improve on a 2-9 campaign.

“Defensively, we’re getting better,” Hummel said. “We’ve got a new (defensive coordinator) and a new scheme, but we need to build more depth. Some of the guys who have been playing all offense are going to see some snaps on the defensive side of the ball.”

Closing out the CNB Kickoff Classic is host Myrtle Beach, which was devastated by graduation. With only three starters back on offense and four returning on defense, the Seahawks are eager to see which players are ready for primetime against a strong Loris squad.

“We’ve got a lot of young guys stepping into key roles and they’re going to have to grow up in a hurry,” Myrtle Beach coach Mickey Wilson said. “If not, it’s going to be a long season for the Seahawks.”

That was the common theme among the coaches, doom and gloom instead of rah-rah speeches. But then again, they plan to let their teams do the talking on the field Friday night at the CNB Kickoff Classic.

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