The MECKA 4A Conference will not make its debut for a few weeks, but its football coaches are already excited about the challenges and opportunities it will bring.
The conference, which was set earlier in the year as part of the N.C. High School Athletic Associations realignment, will have a familiar look keeping a core of former I-Meck 4A programs together in Hopewell, Hough, Mallard Creek, North Mecklenburg, Vance and West Charlotte.
A.L. Brown and Jay M. Robinson, which are moving up to 4A after spending the past four years in the South Piedmont 3A with other Cabarrus County teams, replace Lake Norman and Mooresville to round out the new conference.
I think its good to get new blood in the conference, to start some new rivalries. said Mallard Creek coach Mike Palmieri.
A.L. Browns got a good program, Jay M. Robinson is an up-and-coming program. We love the opportunity to play games with them.
With five of eight MECKA 4A teams coming off playoff appearances, Hough coach Bobby Collins expects the first-year league to be competitive from the start.
I think its the toughest football conference in the state of North Carolina, he said. I think every Friday night in that conference, games are going to come down to the last 4, 5 minutes.
MECKA 4A teams went a combined 51-45 last season, with Mallard Creek (12-2) leading the way as it advanced deep into the playoffs.
The Mavericks, who lost only to eventual 4AA champion Butler last year, have built a reputation for being one of the states football powers by winning 49 of 55 games since 2009 and reaching the 4AA semifinals the past two seasons.
Hough and Vance, who finished second and third, respectively, in the I-Meck 4A last year, hope to carry over some of that momentum into MECKA 4A competition.
The fourth-year Huskies, who are coming off a program-best 9-3 season and their first playoff appearance, will feature their first senior class that has played all four years at the same school. They see that as an opportunity to continue to get better.
Vance, which was 9-4 last season and reached the second round of the 4AA playoffs in coach Keith Wilkes first season with the Cougars, looks to be in contention for the first MECKA 4A title alongside rival Mallard Creek, despite losing star running back/linebacker Larenz Bryant to graduation.
Kannapolis A.L. Brown, which is coming off a 10-4 season that concluded with a loss in the 3AA quarterfinal to state runner-up Charlotte Catholic, hopes to be in a similar situation late in the fall.
A.L. Brown brings a rich tradition of success on the football field, having made 30 playoff appearances and won two state titles since 1972, as well as a devoted fan base to its new league.
A.L. Brown and Robinson could be at a disadvantage, being two of the three smallest schools in 4A with around 1,400 students each, according to the NCHSAA. Both schools have almost 800 fewer students to draw from than the MECKA 4As largest school, Mallard Creek.
A.L. Brown and Robinson hope to rely on their coaches experience to help them overcome those odds.
Wonders coach Mike Newsome is no stranger to playing in the states highest classification, having won two 4AA championships at Butler in 2009 and 2010 before taking over at A.L. Brown in 2011.
At Robinson, former Catawba College assistant John Fitz will start his first year in charge of the Bulldogs.
Fitz, who has 26 years of coaching experience at the high school and collegiate levels, looks to turn around a program that has not reached the playoffs since 2006 and went 3-8 last fall.
Fitz will not be the only new head coach in the league, as Hopewell will play its first season under Matthew Jenkins, a 21-year coaching veteran who was defensive coordinator at Concord the past three seasons.
The Titans, who were 4-7 last year, reached the postseason.
North Meck, in its second year in Brad Bakers system, and West Charlotte will look to improve on last years two wins.
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