Emmanuel Mukuamu

Goose Creek quarterback Emmanuel Mukuamu is a returning starter for the Gators.

The Post and Courier’s Top 10 poll for Charleston-area high school football teams is a strong indicator the Goose Creek Gators have some who believe the Gators could be as improved a squad as there is in the Lowcountry.

At the very least, they’ll be greeted by more than oppressive heat in August. The Gators have some expectations for the first time in a few years.

Among 5A teams in the Lowcountry poll, the Gators were picked just behind Fort Dorchester and Berkeley, a strong statement considering they came in ahead of four teams who beat them in 2018, including Lower State finalist Summerville High School.

The curtains come up on a new season Aug. 2, when squads can officially practice for the first time. The first full contact day is Aug. 7.

“We’re nowhere where we need to be but we’re getting there,” second-year GCHS coach Jason Winstead said. “We’re in a lot better shape this summer than we were last year. We’ve got a lot of experience back and we’ve got a full coaching staff. Hopefully we’re making advancements.”

While meager, the four wins in 2018 were two more than the 2017 total and one more than the 2016 tally.

Winstead and crew have moved on from just wanting the Gators to compete. The next step is finishing games and winning.

“Pressure builds up when you’re supposed to be a little bit better,” Winstead said. “They can’t buy into the hype or what they’re hearing from people. They’ve got to go earn it. It’s still 5A football. You’ve got to block out the noise.”

The big reasons for optimism are key returners on offense, including quarterback Emmanuel Mukuamu and receiver Damon Mouzon, and a strong back seven on defense.

“Some of the talk may be because we’ve got a lot of people back but we were 4-6,” Winstead said. “There are probably a lot of coaches out there who are glad we have a lot of people coming back.”

Not everybody has high expectations for Goose Creek, though. The High School Sports Report ranked a Sweet 16 of Class 5A teams and the Gators were nowhere to be found.

Fort Dorchester was No.2 in that poll behind defending champion Dutch Fork. Berkeley was No. 7, Summerville No. 9 and Ashley Ridge No. 14.

Winstead said the Gators had a pretty good summer in the weight room.

“I told them the other day I can’t promise you all this work means you’re going to win, but I can dang promise you it means you won’t win if you don’t put the work in,” Winstead said.