High School football practice begins Thursday for most area schools, and we’re just three weeks away from opening kickoff.
Here are 10 key burning questions heading into the season.
1. Can Butler do it again?
The Bulldogs have won three of the past four N.C. 4AA championships and have become one of the state’s all-time greatest dynasties. The Bulldogs suffered heavy graduation losses from the 2012 team, including several All-American players. Six starters return, but just two on offense.
Is the year the Bulldogs fall off? There are 22 lettermen back and some top notch junior varsity players moving up. Names may change, but the wins shouldn’t too much.
2. Can Charlotte Catholic continue to roll moving up to 4A?
The Cougars have played in four of the past eight 3AA championships, including last season. This season, Catholic is moving up to 4A. Assuming Catholic plays in the smaller 4A bracket, avoiding teams like Richmond County Butler and Mallard Creek, the Cougars could make a deep playoff run. Defense will be the key, but Catholic returns only one starter on defense.
3. Who has the toughest schedule?
Let’s go back to Catholic. The Cougars start the season with Maryland power Gonzaga, then take on South Carolina’s top team, Rock Hill Northwestern on the road. After that, Catholic plays arch rival and private school power Charlotte Country Day on the road. Catholic finishes its tough opening stretch against N.C. power Mallard Creek at home.
Butler has Mallard Creek, Greensboro Page, Mount Tabor and Richmond among its first five games. Of those four, only one (Page on Sept. 6) is at home.
4. What’s the weather going to be like to start practice?
Forecasts for the Charlotte-area during the next 10 days only have one day where the temperature is expected to hit 90. Most days are forecast in the 80s. Players and coaches appear to be catching a break, but area officials still stress avoiding practices during the hottest parts of the day and allowing plenty of water breaks.
5. Who could be the biggest breakout team of the season?
Well, there’s lots of candidates, but watch the burgeoning power at East Lincoln. The Mustangs, out of Denver, N.C., were 16-0 and won the school’s first state championship in 2012. This year, coach Mike Byus’ team returns 10 starters and is ranked No. 1 in several 2A polls. Sophomore Chazz Surratt was all-state as a receiver as a freshman. He’ll play quarterback, receiver, linebacker and free safety this season.
6. Who are the top returning players?
The area is blessed with talent this season, but here’s five along with their college commitments: Charlotte Catholic running back Elijah Hood (Notre Dame); Davidson Day quarterback Will Grier (Florida); Charlotte Christian tight end Jeb Blazevich (Georgia); Providence offensive lineman Bentley Spain (North Carolina); and Northwestern quarterback Mason Rudolph (Oklahoma State).
7. With all the new conferences this season, which is the toughest?
Hough coach Bobby Collins votes for the new Mecka 4A. Five of the eight teams made the playoffs last season. And with Mallard Creek, along with former 3AA power A.L. Brown plus a pair of 9-win teams in Hough and Vance, well, that’s a tough one. The Southwestern 4A has three teams that have made multiple state championship appearances in Butler, Independence and Porter Ridge.
8. What does the private school race look like this season?
Doesn’t it always come down to two Charlotte schools? Providence Day, Charlotte Christian and Country Day all look strong, again, and Charlotte Latin coach Larry McNulty’s team is always a tough out.
9. Who is the best player most haven’t heard of yet?
SouthLake Christian running back Robert Washington, a sophomore, verbally committed to Mississippi State as a freshman. He ran 89 times for 1,017 yards last season.
10. What is the game of the year is?
Kind of weird that Concord is at Brown to start the season. Northwestern-Rock Hill has arguably become second biggest game in that town to Northwestern-South Pointe.Butler at Mallard Creek is too early. Safe pick? Butler at Independence Nov. 8 for a possible league title.
The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.
Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email firstname.lastname@example.org to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.Read moreRead less