Football teams from six states will be taking the field Friday and Saturday as the Palmetto State Showdown 7-on-7 is set to get underway in Duncan, South Carolina.
High school teams from Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, New Jersey, North Carolina and South Carolina will be on hand for the fourth annual event, which has become one of the top destinations of the summer circuit.
Tony McAbee, the event organizer, thinks that the event's affiliation with host school, national power Byrnes, has helped build the brand.
"Byrnes has constantly been mentioned yearly as one of the best programs in recent years," he said. "I think teams want to come and compete with us."
A format change will greet those teams this year.
The event is expanding its pool play before moving to a single-elimination tournament. The change will give teams more guaranteed games.
"I think the idea was to give the teams an opportunity to play more games," McAbee said. "I think the teams are here to get as much field time as possible and to see different looks. The best answer may be we wanted to just change it up some."
While some prescribe to the theory that if it isn't broken don't fix it, McAbee and the committee feel like the move was made in the best interest of the teams.
"I am really liking what we do already," he said. "It is our goal to always make it special for the players and coaches."
And along the way make it special for the organizers and fans.
"It will be exciting to see [Indianapolis (Ind.)] Warren Central play," McAbee said. "[Durham (N.C.)] Hillside came in last year and competed very well and went on and ran the table in North Carolina. I think Lexington [(S.C.) High] can be good especially with Shaq Rowland. While we were making the schedule, I was noticing how many awesome matchups there were."
Breakdown: The pool looks as though it favors host school Byrnes to make it through with relative ease. Kings Mountain could present a decent challenge as the team is proving to be a threat to score points. With both Blythewood and Bergen Catholic reloading a lot of players, it could be the strength of Byrnes defense - and maybe not its offense - that carries this pool.
Second tier: All three other teams appear to be a balanced group, but none stands out as a real threat in pool play. Bergen Catholic is in its second season with fiery Nunzio Campanile as the head coach and the team, while reloading, will not be a pushover for anyone. The challenge for many teams will be locking down the speedy Damar Hall from Blythewood.
Player to Watch: Duncan (S.C.) Byrnes junior wide receiver Akia Booker can use this event to really propell his recruiting as the top target for Byrnes. The 6-foot receiver has excellent body control but has been lacking in route running. The summer circuit is a great place to improve his breaks as well as gain timing with his new quarterback.
Prediction: Had Bergen Catholic been bringing back the team it lost from last year, this may be a much more exciting pool. But, as it stands now, it looks like a 3-0 roll for Byrnes. The Rebels will be tightening their quarterback situation, but the team brings back an unheralded but very talented defense that will make it very hard for other teams to move the ball against, even in a passing league event.
Breakdown: This may be the best and most balanced pool of them all with each team presenting strengths that make the team interesting. Colquitt County may be the best team of the group when the pads are on, but the offensive line is not a factor in this league; the talent is still there, but it is not greatly above the rest of the squads. Greenville has been able to run up the scoreboard in recent years and moving the ball through the air will be fun to watch.
Second tier: It is pretty even across the top three teams with the Byrnes JV figuring to be the No. 4 team - although as the C-Team at last year's event, the players moving up showed a lot of fight. If Colquitt and Greenville are the marginal favorites, the second tier would only be a close second with Chesterfield and Byrnes JV.
Player to Watch: It isn't that frequent that a tight end could be a major factor in a passing tournament but Colquitt County's Ty Smith will be the difference maker in this pool. The 6-foot-3, Georgia Bulldog commit can stretch the field from his inside position as well as test any linebacker or safety that will be forced to cover him.
Prediction: If a team gets out of this pool without a loss, it would be a surprise as all seem to be so balanced. Colquitt would be the odds-on favorite but it is not out of the woods that this isn't a 2-1 tie with Greenville. Conversely, it would not be surprising if no team went winless either as every team should chalk up at least one victory.
Teams: Durham (N.C.) Southern, Indianapolis (Ind.) Warren Central, Myrtle Beach (S.C.) High, Woodruff (S.C.) High
Breakdown: Warren Central looks to be the best team in the pool, and possibly the most talented in the entire tournament, and should put together a good showing in the bracket. Myrtle Beach is going to have a much different look than last year's team but should have enough team speed to stay competitive. Woodruff was a pleasant surprise in last year's event as well as a high scoring team in the regular season. Durham Southern appears to be the bottom team in the bracket, but the team has a pair of athletic receivers that may have them remain competitive throughout the event.
Second tier: It is expected that Southern takes the bottom of the pool and Warren Central sits atop the pack. Woodruff and Myrtle Beach should fill in the gap nicely as both teams have had recent success and good young talent. Which team emerges and makes a run in the tournament play will be fun to watch.
Player to Watch: There are plenty of players to watch from the Warren Central squad. In this format, two of the most interesting will be three-star receiver Kevin Davis as well as Purdue defensive back commit Jordan Shine. The secondary for many teams will have a tough time shutting down one of the best pass catchers from the Midwest in Davis. Many teams will struggle moving the ball against Shine and fellow Division I prospect Kaleb Humphrey.
Prediction: This pool seems to be the easiest to predict and it should go convincingly to Warren Central. The Indianapolis-area team was not even supposed to be at the tournament - it is a last-minute addition filling in for Oxford (Ala.) High - but it could be the overall No. 1 seed. The rest of the spots will be most interesting to see sort themselves out, but expect to see Woodruff show well.
Breakdown: If there were a pool to single out as the low rung on the ladder, it would be this pool. It also makes this the wild card bracket as any team could get hot and win this pool. Each team has at least one player that will make it tough on the others to slow and that makes it interesting. As far as a team that could go on tilt and win the tournament, this pool doesn't look like it has that.
Second tier: To identify a second tier, you would first need to identify which is the top tier. Maybe the best of the group will prove to be Brunswick High but it is a guessing game. All four of these teams will prove to be quality teams and tough outs come tournament time, but at best they are all second tiers in other pools. As far as quality, this bracket is tough, but for top-end teams, it is lacking.
Player to Watch: While he may play second fiddle to teammate and Louisville commit Demetrius Frazier, Brunswick receiver Avery Sweeting may be the fastest player at the Palmetto event. The duo certainly makes Brunwick very tough to cover; the two are similar players with the ability to go get the ball, despite neither standing over 5-foot-10.
Prediction: The teams will all battle evently and form a quality middle when the seeding of the tournament comes out. If Brunswick takes a few early losses and gets a low seed, it is a team that no team will want early in the afternoon the second day. If Spartanburg quarterback Adrian Kollock can get rolling, this could be anyone's ball game.
Teams: Lexington (S.C.) High, Louisville (Ga.) Jefferson County, Piedmont (S.C.) Wren, Suwanee (Ga.) North Gwinnett
Breakdown: Of all the pools, this one should have the most competitive and high-scoring games of the bunch with all four teams having high-octane offenses. Wren surprised everyone by winning the tournament in 2010, but will be replacing both its quarterback and top receiver. North Gwinnett lost CJ Uzomah but returns its quarterback, Scotty Hosch. Lexington has the highest-rated player in the event. Jefferson County is the unknown but has scored points in bunches.
Second tier: Assuming Lexington High is the favorite in the pool, then North Gwinnett would probably fill in the second tier with Wren and Jefferson County being right on the heels of those two. North Gwinnett, for a team that runs the spread, has more quality running backs that will need to slide to receiver this year than most teams in the field. Hosch split time at quarterback with Uzomah last year but is the unquestioned leader this season.
Player to Watch: The only player in the event ranked in the Rivals100 is Lexington's Shaq Roland who is the No. 63 overall ranked player in the nation. Roland is the No. 1 player in the state of South Carolina and should command the opposition's best coverman in every game, but is still expected to dominate. Despite a down year for individual talent in the Palmetto State, Roland can compete with anyone nationally.
Prediction: As Wren showed last year, teams can come from under the radar to win this tournament and head coach Jeff Tate - a former Byrnes assistant - will have his team ready to come out firing. The talent on Lexington gives it the edge in the bracket - but only slightly. Any team can take home this pool and likely a 2-1 record will be the winner by point differential.