Countdown to Kickoff Poll: No. 5 Braves look to reload

Editor’s Note: GSSR, in conjunction with My Horry News, is previewing the six SCHSL football teams in our coverage area by ranking them in our preseason Pick 6 Poll. One team will be revealed each day before the season officially begins. Pick up the full football preview in this week’s My Horry News family of newspapers.

Socastee had to replace half its roster. The Braves played most of 2017 with fewer than 30 players. When 13 of those athletes graduated, it left coach Doug Illing searching for ways to restock the cupboard.

“We lost all our skill guys offensively,” Illing said. “So we’ll replace our quarterback, running back and four receivers. … However, we’ve got a talented group that’s working at it. So we’re really excited about what we’ve got replacing them. They’ve learned from a great bunch of guys that have graduated.”

Managing the Socastee offense will be quarterback Seth McKinney, who spent two years on the JV team and got some playing time last year behind starter Hunter Illing.

“He knows our offense really well,” he said. “We’re really excited about where he’s at and the potential that he has.”

A key weapon for the Braves will be speedy Kenney Solomon, who will likely see time in a variety of positions, including wide receiver, kick returner and defensive back. The Braves will also have senior Desmond Grant at running back. The receiving corps will feature JJ Jones, Carson Stout and Khaleb Scoggins.

“There’s a lot of talent out there,” Illing said. “I don’t think it’s going to be a let down. It’s just going to be new.”

One plus for the Braves is that their region no longer includes Sumter, which dominated the region in recent years. Playing Sumter also meant hours of travel time. St. James, which sits just down the road on S.C. 707, will replace Sumter in the region.

“There’s going to be a lot less traveling,” Illing said. “That’s for sure.”

The inclusion of St. James in the region also adds some intrigue to the annual rivalry match between the schools.

“Whether it’s a preseason scrimmage, 7-on-7, conference championship, last game of the year, it’s still going to be a competitive football game,” Illing said. “You can throw the records out. … It’s a good rivalry that we’ve had. Just now [there] happens to be a little more at stake.”

CJ Armstrong, a senior who plays defensive tackle and tight end, said players are stronger and faster than they were a year ago.

“We have grown a lot in the weight room this year,” he said. “We have gotten a lot more speed back and we’ve really matured as a team. Even though we’re younger, we’re pretty mature as a team.”

With so many new personnel, the team is still figuring out its strengths and the balance of its running and passing games. Still, Illing said, his goal doesn’t change with the roster.

“We expect to win,” he said.

When teams prepare for the Socastee Braves this fall, their focus will be on No. 4. Kenney Solomon is a threat in nearly every facet of the game, playing cornerback, wide receiver and even returning kicks.

“He’ll never come off the field,” Braves coach Doug Illing joked at a press conference this month.
Humor aside, Solomon is getting serious looks from multiple colleges. So far, he’s received 14 offers.

“He’s very explosive,” Illing said, adding that Solomon forces defense to focus on him, creating opportunities for his teammates. “He’s making people around him a lot better.”

Solomon started playing at the age of 6 and learned the game from his father, who played wideout in arena football.

Although he’s known for his speed — Solomon also runs track — there’s more to his game than his legs. Solomon also communicates well with other players and has hands capable of picking off quarterbacks and hauling in touchdowns.
Last season, he hauled in six interceptions and found the end zone five times.

His coach said the team will need Solomon to be scoring frequently this year.

“Every time the ball is in his hands, it’s a scoring opportunity,”Illing said. “Our job is to get him as many scoring opportunities as we can.”

Photo by Chuck Silvey

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