Ten burning questions as high school football officially kicks off with practice on Friday.
1. Who’s the top team?
Mallard Creek has the state’s third-longest win streak at 16 games, behind Havelock (30) and Charlotte Christian (19). Coach Mike Palmieri’s team is ranked No. 9 in the USA Today preseason national poll.
2. Will Mecklenburg County teams be strong again?
Last season, 12 Mecklenburg County teams played in respective state semifinal games. Six played for state championships. National recruiting website MaxPreps recently listed the state’s top teams of the past 10 years. Independence was No. 1, Butler No. 2, Charlotte Catholic No. 3. Mallard Creek was 16th. Each of those teams – plus several in private schools – will figure in state title races.
3. Where are all the new faces?
Mecklenburg County schools have 10 new coaches: Mike Brodowicz (Charlotte Catholic), Barry Shuford (East Mecklenburg), Percell Gaskins (Garinger), Miles Aldridge (Hough), Mark Steele (Lake Norman Charter), Scott Chadwick (Myers Park), Keith Wilkes (Olympic), SouthLake (Bobby McLaughlin), Vance (Aaron Brand) and West Charlotte (Mo Collins).
4. What about the new coaches at Independence?
Independence hired Joe Evans last season as coach, but has added several assistants who were part of past Patriots state championships teams: Jeff Romanelli, Billy Wiggins, DJ Rankin, Zavis Padgett and DJ McFadden.
“These are guys who never lost a game in high school and it paid dividends in summer workouts,” Patriots athletics director Kelly Lewis said. “They’ve grown up but still know what Independence football is about. Listen, 8-5 (Independence’s 2013 record) isn’t good enough. We’re trying to light a fire under them and see what happens.”
5. New look at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools stadiums?
Garinger, Olympic and West Mecklenburg are opening stadiums this year with artificial-turf fields (Myers Park and Independence have new basketball gyms coming in the winter).
“It’s huge for us,” Garinger athletics director Tony Huggins said. “Between new uniforms we’re wearing this year and new field, we picked up 20 kids who wouldn’t have come out. We’re up to 45 kids now. Last year, we had 27. Even kids not playing are excited about coming to games and about the team.”
6. Who are the teams to watch in North and South Carolina?
In South Carolina, former Independence and West Charlotte coach Tom Knotts has quickly built Dutch Fork into the state’s top team. In Rock Hill, Northwestern looks to have another state championship contender. In North Carolina, Mallard Creek and Butler look like the best 4A teams, then it’s Havelock and Crest in 3A, Shelby and Reidsville in 2A and Murphy and James Kenan in 1A.
7. Three can’t-miss games?
Summerville (S.C.) at Providence Aug. 22 (Summerville coach John McKissick, 87, has 613 wins, 10 state titles and has worked for 62 years); Vance at Mallard Creek Oct. 17 (Former Mallard Creek offensive coordinator Aaron Brand is now head coach at talent-heavy Vance); Independence at Butler, Nov. 7 (arguably the state’s biggest and best rivalry game).
8. Is there a sleeping giant?
After going 3-8 last season, South Mecklenburg returns 26 lettermen and 16 starters. Fans are talking about a “New South Meck.” DB/QB Stephen Griffin (Tennesseee) and WR/DB Chance Kennedy (offer from North Carolina) will lead a talented and deep team.
9. After losing longtime coach Jim Oddo and superstar Elijah Hood, will Charlotte Catholic slip?
The guess here? No. New coach Mike Brodowicz was a longtime assistant and 14 starters return, including most of the offensive and defensive lines. Catholic won big before Hood arrived. We figure that won’t change much now that he’s graduated.
10. Individually, with Hood and Davidson Day QB Will Grier off to college, is the area’s talent still strong?
You bet. There are tons of area college propsects and proven stars like Concord running back Rocky Reid. He rushed for 3,355 yards and 41 touchdowns last season and has committed to Tennessee. Some names and faces might not be as familiar as Hood and Grier right now, but you will know them soon. They’re out there.
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