Football is back. Every team has its expectations, coaches are pumped for what could be and players are excited to finally hit someone on another team when it really matters.
To me, high school football season is the best, especially after sitting idle over the summer.
Every year there are surprises, disappointments and programs that take the next step in solidifying their place among our state’s football dynasties.
This season is great because we have all of that but the biggest mystery of all is the teams. Where will they end up in the standings? Are there any teams making big jumps this season? Who are the next big stars? Which teams will take a step back this season after big performances last year?
So many questions, huh?
Below is my conference breakdown that has it everything a football fan needs to know – from the stars to make sure you watch for, to predictions for each team, the order of finish in each conference and much more.
There simply isn’t a better 3A conference in the state. Charlotte Catholic (3-A) and Weddington (3-AA) both won state titles last season and nobody would say you were crazy if you said both were the favorites to repeat.
Right now, they probably are.
Mix in Monroe’s high-powered offense, Sun Valley’s playmakers and grit on defense and a few teams, including Piedmont and Parkwood, I think could be a lot better this year.
Projected Order of Finish:
Weddington 10-1; 7-0
CLT Catholic 9-1; 6-1
Monroe 7-4; 3-4
Sun Valley 6-5; 4-3
Marvin Ridge 5-6; 4-3
Piedmont 3-8; 2-5
Parkwood 3-8, 1-6
Cuthbertson 2-7; 1-6
People think Weddington will take a hit, but I don’t see it.
Will Shipley is brilliant, but just one of a half dozen other superstars who have them thinking repeat.
Charlotte Catholic lost a lot of talent, too, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be just as dominant in 2019.
Lead back Lamagea McDowell is a big, strong ball carrier with excellent speed and elite left tackle Malik McGowan anchors a stout offensive line so the Cougars can run it.
The linebackers are as good as anyone’s and they are 73-5 in coach Mike Brodowicz’s five seasons.
Monroe is a team I really like.
Quarterback Matt Bennett has an offer from Southern Miss, and a wide receiver corps that will give defensive coordinators nightmares with stars Shaleak Knotts (51 catches, 757 yards and 10 scores) and Salen Streater (24 catches, 397 yards and six touchdowns in 7.5 games last season).
Metrolina Christian transfer Jack Crump and holdover Tezien Grier will tag-team the run game, so the offense will sizzle.
The problem is, many of those guys must go both ways so conditioning and depth are always big concerns.
Sun Valley has posted 21 wins over the past two seasons, marking a school record for a two-year span. Tacory Robinson is a three-year starter while junior offensive lineman Michael Gonzalez and receiver Gavin Blackwell (51 receptions, 1,136 yards and 19 receiving touchdowns) are Power 5 recruits.
Defensively, eight of the top nine tacklers are gone though.
Marvin Ridge quarterback Sully McDermott was good in spot duty last year and can lead an offense, but they have a brutal non conference schedule with Northwest Cabarrus (13-1 in 2018), Ardrey Kell (So. Meck 7 tri-champion), Porter Ridge (10-5, 4-A regional champs) and Rock Hill (8-3) all on the road and Jay M Robinson (6-6, but improved) at home.
Star junior Ian Hutter (74 catchers, 874 yards and five touchdowns as a receiver) is a superstar receiver, but the Mavs imploded late last season. They have a lot of talent, but can they put it together?
New Piedmont coach Jon Castator comes in as a very highly regarded assistant from Porter Ridge, and he’s set on turning around a team that went just 2-9 last season and hasn’t had an outright winning season since an 8-5 mark in 2013.
Castator will lean on running back Conner Purser (1,228 yards, 5.7 yards per rush and 13 touchdowns) once again, but this season he’ll have some help after accounting for over 43 percent of the team’s offensive production in 2018.
Junior Brooks Gsell will be a main beneficiary of increased targets.
But the defense must improve upon the 33.5 points.
Austin Cain was more than 30 percent of Parkwood’s offense last season and made over 80 tackles on defense, but they may just be a precursor to 2019.
Sametrious Drakeford, Wyne McGriff, Brooks Mushington and Kyle Knox will try to take more pressure off quarterback Brock Cain, but the defense allowed nearly 37 points per game and must get shored up.
New Cuthbertson coach Trey Kavanaugh is as upbeat as coaches come, and he starts with a clean slate with just seven of the 22 starting spots filled with returnees.
Six of the top seven receivers, their quarterback, three leading rushers, stud kicker and top three leading tacklers are all gone from last year’s team that underperformed in many people’s eyes, including mine.
Evan Bernard, AJ Colomobo, Jackson Cheek and Robbie Crump are a few guys destined for stardom this year, but the Cavs need time to grow in this league.
Union Academy has a change in offensive philosophy that will see them run the ball more as more of a ground-and-pound team.
That suits Illinois commit Phifer Griffin and the rest of the offensive line, which will help open holes for Isaac King. New quarterback Josh Harris will run some too, although he can’t forget Derek Young (68 catches, 987 yards and 12 touchdowns).
The Cardinals will be fine on offense, but they must improve on the other side of the ball, where they averaged 32.5 points per game.
Projected Record: 5-5, 3-4 in Southern Carolinas (fifth place)
Metrolina Christian star DB/WR/RB/KR Jadus Davis won’t come off the field, and that’s a huge plus for Metrolina. Quarterback Angel Gonzalez has started parts of the last two seasons, and he’s ready for a big year.
Davis, Colby Girard, Luke Roffler and Tommy Miller form one of the best secondaries in the county.
Projected Record: 8-2
Cannon Davis takes over at Forest Hills quarterback for a team filled with elite playmakers such as running backs Ahmad Stafford, Markyle Crowder, Tyquan Rushing and Queshawn Blakeney.
The Yellow Jackets averaged more than 23 points per game last season and should have very little problem matching that.
But for the team to improve much from the three wins in 2018 the defense has to get much better.
Projected Record: 4-7, 2-2 in Rocky River 2A
Porter Ridge returns two offensive starters in linemen Sean Ahaotu-Simelane and Jason Gonzlaez, but watch out for some of the skill guys including receiver/running back Kirkland Harris, receiver Nick Horstkamp and running backs Brandon Perry and Alex Chapman. New quarterback Mason Cox has looked great this summer and is more than capable of leading that group.
Projected Record: 6-5; 4-3 in Southwestern 4A