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Kickoff is Aug. 19 at 8 p.m., will you be there?

How long ago was it?  

Callaway scored with just 17.5 seconds remaining and the 2016 football season was over for local fans.

Saturday night the 2017 Screven County High School Gamecocks of Coach Ron Duncan will meet the Bluffton, S.C., Bobcats in the final contest of the four-game, two-night Erk Russell Classic at Paulson Stadium in Statesboro. It will be the regular season opener for both teams and kickoff is slated for 8 p.m.

For more than 20 Gamecock seniors, this is a chance to begin anew. No more what could have been in 2016. Now begins what it can be in 2017. Paulson Stadium, the scene of that other heartbreak last year when Bluffton scored with just 20.5 left, is the perfect place to start the new season. Both teams are coming off fantastic seasons and both teams have high hopes for this season.

Not only do the gridiron Gamecocks have high hopes, so do the trio of other SCHS fall sports.  Cross country will be shooting for its sixth consecutive region title. For the fifth time in six seasons, the region meet will be hosted by the Lady Gamecocks. Last season seven of the top 10 runners in the region wore Red and White, five of them are back.

Competitive cheerleading, defending 4AA champions, unlike a season ago, will have competition this season in the region as both Josey and Jefferson County have declared their intention to compete. There will be plenty of practice time to work on moving up the totem pole in state competition. Twice in the past four seasons the SCHS cheerleaders have finished third in the state. With as many freshmen as seniors in the lineup and only two juniors, this season will be interesting.

Softball was region runner-up to the state champs. Five of their 10 losses a year ago were to the teams that met in the state championship game. Eight players who started in last week’s season opening win over defending 3AAAA champion Burke County started better than 20 games last year. On Tuesday, they opened the 2017 region schedule with a win over Westside.

Softball is hosting Butler in their second region game this afternoon. Of course, they did have two rained out last week and they play Burke County and Glascock County in the Burke County Diamond Day on Saturday. 

Cross country is at the Frazier-Hite Invitational in Statesboro to open their season on Aug. 31. 

The cheerleaders will be the last to open their season. That will be on Sept. 16 in either Lyons or Bonaire.

Lots of things are happening but beyond all else is SCHS vs. Bluffton on Saturday night in Paulson Stadium. Gamecock fans have been waiting since the early evening hours of Aug. 20, 2016, for this one. This is a newer and deeper football team for the Red and White. There are five First Team All Staters in the lineup.

“We should be better in a lot of places,” said Duncan. “There were a lot of new starters at this point last year. There is considerably more experience now … not nearly as many unknowns.”

It is defense where Duncan has the highest expectations as the season starts. “I have high expectations for this group,” he said. “I have a lot of confidence in a group that will have essentially 10 starters with lots of big game experience … a lot of kids coming back who learned how to do things the right way last year. They did not reach their top form until the second half of the season. These are the players who should be better than last year. They all played in big games a season ago and we will be as good as they are.”

All fans in the community know the names of the skill set on offense. The worry among that group seems to begin at the offensive line. It is a group with only two of six starters returning.

‘They (offensive line) are getting better,” explained Duncan. “They are great kids who are giving all they have. Right now they are working on consistency. Our offensive lines always get better. It is remarkable. Think about how much better they were last year by the time we got to Callaway than they were against Bluffton. It is a credit to Coach (Kenny) Sanders and Coach (Cody) Brannen.”

Duncan also feels like too much is being made of the situation. “I have had some really good teams that did not have really good offensive lines (not an assessment of the 2017 line). Maybe it is not as key as some think. They just need to fire off the ball -- we do -- and then we, as coaches, must be creative with our skill players. With the triple option you don’t always have to block everyone.”

With its most experienced lineup to hit the field since 2010, the SCHS Lady Gamecock softball team of Jim Randall Doyle has already begun its season. The old saying “to be the best, you have to beat the best” certainly applies this season,” says Doyle, whose team must contend with defending Class AA state champion Harlem in the confines of 4AA. “We are looking forward to the challenges of the 2017 softball season. The team has been working very hard all summer. The team realizes the opportunity is here and dedication is necessary to reach their goal.”

Asked to sum up what the season may hold Doyle said, “the Lady Gamecocks are hopeful of consistent pitching and a solid defense to carry us. The coaches are enjoying working with these ladies every day. Several of our girls are extremely versatile and it allows us to be creative with the lineup. Offensively, the Lady Gamecocks are looking to be more consistent throughout the line-up from top to bottom. We want to hit with a purpose and apply constant pressure on the opponent with each offensive plate appearance.”  

One thing the team definitely wants to improve upon is its post season performance. Despite a string of 11 consecutive state playoff appearances the Lady Gamecocks have won just one playoff series in the past six seasons. That was on the road at Crawford County in 2014. Over that time, the team has dropped its last three home playoff series, all in the first round.      

For the cheerleaders of Vette Rountree and Mary Helen Harrison, there is the Region 4AA competition in Eatonton but then all eyes are on the Columbus Civic Center on Nov. 11. As expected, 4AA champions squad will not perform until the state finals on that date. Always an extreme presence at the state finals, the team, with so many new starters, should have grown up behind a schedule that includes five competitions before their region performance at Putnam County on Nov. 4.

“This team should be able to max out in both stunts and running tumbling,” explained Rountree. “In the past, we have not been able to max out on the running tumbling because we just didn’t have the number of girls required throwing the higher-level tumbling skills. Now we do. This is obviously a very young team but it is a very talented team.”

The 2017 competition team is comprised of 19 girls. Leading the team is four seniors, followed by just two juniors, six sophomores and seven freshmen.