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Observer-area county-by-county high school football preview

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Jeff Sochko Special to the Herar - THE (ROCK HILL) HERALD FILE PHOTO
Receiver Dupree Hart (14) of Rock Hill Northwestern caught 33 TD passes last season. He needs 14 more to tie the South Carolina record.

Mecklenburg County

FAVORITES

Butler (Southwestern 4A): This might be the toughest local race of all. The Bulldogs face stiff competition from at least three teams in the league, annually the state’s most difficult.

Charlotte Christian (CISAA): Two-time state champion has begun to dominate what was, for a while, a very close league race annually.

Mallard Creek (MECKA 4A): The reigning NC4AA state champion has speed, size and coaching, plus a real desire to prove that it is a dynasty in the making.

Providence (SoMeck 8): The Panthers have enough talent and enough coaching to make a run at one of the best seasons in school history. Providence hasn’t had double-digit wins since 2003 and has only achieved that three times in its 25-year history.

CONTENDERS

Charlotte Catholic (SoMeck): 14 starters return for first-year coach Mike Brodowicz, but the Cougars have a tough non-conference schedule with games against Rock Hill Northwestern and Mallard Creek.

Charlotte Latin (CISAA): Hawks reached the 2013 Division I private school final and return 17 starters from that 9-3 team. RB Denzel Pearson was all-state and QB Daniel Jones threw 28 TD passes.

Hough (MECKA 4A): Huskies had a 10-game win streak last season and have Mallard Creek, the conference favorite, at home this season.

Independence (Southwestern 4A): Patriots should be fueled by an 8-5 season last year when they felt poised for much better. Patriots, led by QB Kelvin Hopkins and DL Christian Colon, hunt their third double-digit winning season in four years.

DARK HORSES

Providence Day (CISAA): Chargers got infusion of young talent to go with all-state DB Deontae Henderson. Providence Day won the 2011 state title.

Rocky River (Southwestern 4A): Ravens are reigning conference champs and after opening 0-10 in 2010 and going 3-8 in 2011, the school is 18-8 the past two seasons. It’s a program on the rise.

South Mecklenburg (SoMeck 8): Sabres haven’t had a winning season since 2010 and just two since 1997. Sabres faithful are calling this “The New South Meck.” They believe this is their time.

FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH

Mark Fields, Hough, 5-10, 186, Sr, DB: One of the fastest players in North Carolina has committed to South Carolina.

Josh Brown, Mallard Creek, 6-5, 215, Jr., DE: Junior has offers from Florida State, North Carolina and UCLA.

Stephen Griffin, South Mecklenburg, 6-3, 180, Sr., QB/DB: All-conference star has committed to Tennessee.

Mason Veal, Ardrey Kell, 6-5, 295, Sr., OL: Associated Press all-state player has verbally committed to North Carolina.

Robert Washington, Southlake Christian, 5-11, 210, Jr., RB: NCISAA all-state product has more than 30 Division I offers. Rushed for 2,512 yards and 28 TDs last season

THREE GAMES YOU CAN’T MISS

Butler vs. Mallard Creek at Providence, Aug. 29: A rematch of the NC4AA semifinals from last season matches the state’s two top ranked 4A teams in 2014. You could also put Butler’s games with Richmond Senior (Sept. 19) and Independence (Nov. 7) on this list. Ditto Mallard Creek’s game at Hough (Oct. 10)

Charlotte Latin at Charlotte Christian, Oct. 3: A rematch of the 2013 N.C. Independent Schools state championship game – and the 2012 NCISAA state semifinal game.

Charlotte Catholic at Providence, Nov. 7: This could be for the SoMeck 8 conference championship game, and this matchup is developing into one of the county’s better rivalries, too.

Cabarrus County

FAVORITE

Concord (South Piedmont): Only seven starters are back from last season’s 15-1 N.C. 3A runner-up, but Spiders have multiple college prospects on offense and two leaders on defense – DL Mike Baker (53 tackles, 3.5 sacks) and DB Carter Mozingo (53 tackles, five INT) – who are as good as anyone in the county.

CONTENDERS

Central Cabarrus (South Piedmont): 16 starters are back from an 11-2 team – including N.C. Preps preseason all-state pick Lavon Hightower at DB – and if Concord slips any, Central Cabarrus (and West Rowan) could be waiting around to snatch a league title.

Mount Pleasant (Rocky River): With 15 starters back and 32 lettermen – including senior Tyler Rawson, who was second nationally with 214 tackles last season – the Tigers are hoping to push Union County’s Monroe High for the league title. Six all-conference players are back for coach Michael Johns.

DARK HORSE

A.L. Brown (MECKA 8): Wonders were 7-5 last season, their lowest win total since 1996. Coach Mike Newsome hopes to rebound with a team that returns 36 lettermen and 12 starters.

Hickory Ridge (South Piedmont): Coming off a 4-8 season, coach Marty Paxton is looking for a big jump in the win total. Why? He has 15 starters back, including several all-conference players and college recruits.

FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH

Keenan Black, Concord, 6-2, 180, Jr, QB: Threw for 1,603 yards and 20 TDs and made the South Piedmont all-conference team.

Connor O’Donnell, Concord First Assembly, 6-0, 160, Jr., WR: SouthLake Christian transfer had 48 catches for 1,308 yards and 8 TDs season. Named private school all-state.

Nate Mullen, Hickory Ridge, 5-8, 165, Sr., ATH: South Piedmont special teams player of 2013 had 2,650 all purpose yards and 19 TDs.

Austin Parker, Mount Pleasant, 6-2, 180, Sr., K/P/QB: Averaged 44.7 yards per punt last season and made 14 PATs and six field goals. Committed to Duke.

Rocky Reid, Concord, 6-0, 215, Sr., RB: Associated Press all-state pick and Tennessee recruit had 3,355 yards rushing and 41 TDs last season.

THREE GAMES YOU CAN’T MISS

A.L. Brown at Concord, Aug. 22: One of the Carolinas’ oldest rivalries still burns hot and the winner gets the Victory Bell.

Monroe at Mount Pleasant, Oct. 17: This could be for the Rocky River conference championship. Mount Pleasant is hoping for its first back-to-back winning seasons since 2007 and ’08.

West Rowan at Concord, Oct. 24: Concord plays at Central Cabarrus Oct. 3 and will likely need that win plus one against longtime power West Rowan to lock up a league title.

Gaston County

FAVORITES

Bessemer City (Southern Piedmont 1A): The Yellow Jackets were 4-1 in league play last season and return 25 lettermen, 12 starters, including all of their skill players.

South Point (Big South 2A/3A): Eight starters and plenty of tradition return from last season’s 13-1 team. South Point has lost three games since the 2010 season ended.

CONTENDERS

Ashbrook (Big South 2A/3A): Expect the Green Wave to be more athletic than last season’s 9-4 team, led by 6-5, 215-pound QB Austin Mitchell (2,053 yards, 16 TDs last season). Coach Greg Hill has 15 starters back.

DARK HORSES

Cherryville (Southern Piedmont 1A): The Ironmen were 6-7 overall but 4-1 in league play last season and bring back 11 starters, but must replace its offensive line and linebackers.

Forestview (Big South 2A/3A): The Jaguars conference championship hopes could come down to back-to-back games with South Point and Ashbrook in October.

FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH

Jaquan Brooks, South Point, 5-11, 180, Sr., QB: Ran for 1,552 yards and 21 touchdowns last season; threw for 608 yards and six scores; is 25-2 as varsity starter

Cedric Mackey, Bessemer City, 5-5, 190, Sr., RB: Ran 257 times for 1,573 yards and 18 TDs last season.

Delmonte McClure, Hunter Huss, 6-1, 215, Sr.: Runs a 4.56 40 and had 124 tackles and seven sacks last season.

Tanner Muse, South Point, 6-4, 215, Sr., LB: Had 87 tackles and four INTs last season. Will play more offense this season. Committed to Clemson.

Moe Neal, Forestview, 5-11, 170, Jr., RB: Ran 160 times for 1,027 yards last season and caught 70 passes for 783 yards and 10 TDs; high major-college prospect

THREE GAMES YOU CAN’T MISS

Ashbrook at Crest, Aug. 29: The Green Wave gets an early test against a Cleveland County bunch ranked No. 2 in the N.C. Preps preseason 3A poll.

Forestview at South Point, Oct. 17: League championship hopes will likely ride on this one.

Hunter Huss at Ashbrook, Nov. 7: Still the county’s top rivalry game and one that cuts a swath through the county.

Iredell County

FAVORITE

Mooresville (North Piedmont 3A/4A): When you return 52 lettermen and 13 starters, the expectations have to be high, right?

CONTENDER

Lake Norman (North Piedmont 3A/4A): The Wildcats have all of their skill players back and six of seven DBs and LBs. In all 15 starters are back from an 8-4 playoff team.

DARK HORSE

Statesville (North Piedmont 3A/4A): QB Travis Ramseur threw for 3,371 yards and 34 TDs and ran for 890 yards and 9 TDs. He’ll power a team with 12 starters back.

FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH

Tommy Bullock, Mooresville, 5-9, 175, Sr., QB: Threw for 1,912 yards and 14 touchdowns and ran for 516 yards and 13 TDs; averaged 36 yards per punt, too.

Alex Gourley, Gourley, South Iredell, 6-1, 282, Jr., OL: all-conference center is getting high major Division I recruiting attention. Had more than 30 pancake blocks last season.

Corey Joyner, Lake Norman, WR: Associated Press all-state pick was second nationally in receiving yards (1,708) and had 21 touchdowns. He has an offer from Army and interest from Clemson and East Carolina

Josh Ladowski, Lake Norman, QB: Associated Press all-state pick threw for 3,207 yards and 30 touchdowns and ran for 2,069 yards and 29 TDs; UNC baseball recruit.

Akease Rankin, Mooresville, 6-0, 200, Sr., RB: All-county pick ran for 2,136 yards and 21 touchdowns last season

THREE GAMES YOU CAN’T MISS

Lake Norman at Hough, Sept. 5: Hough won 51-29 in a wild offensive showdown that was a one score game in the second half.

Statesville at Mooresville, Sept. 26: Mooresville beat Statesville 40-39 last season. Expect another thriller between league championship contenders.

Mooresville at Lake Norman, Nov. 7: One of the area’s biggest rivalries that doesn’t get the credit it deserves. And it could, again, decide a league title.

Lincoln County

FAVORITE

East Lincoln (Southern District 7 2A): Perennial power returns 10 starters and coach Mike Byus said his team will be faster, but young at linebacker.

CONTENDER

Lincolnton (Southern District 7 2A): The Wolves have 14 starters back from a 9-5 team and what coach Scott Cloninger terms good senior leadership.

FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH

Josh Benge, North Lincoln, 6-3, 265, Jr.: Benge was an all-confence and all-county pick as a sophomore

Quinlyn Harris, Lincolnton, 5-9, 160, Sr., DB: has 4.45 40 speed and had 48 tackles and 10 interceptions last season.

Darian Roseboro, Lincolnton, 6-5, 280, Sr., DL: Conference defensive player of the year as a junior when he had 125 tackles, 21 for loss and 10 sacks.

Chazz Surratt, East Lincoln, 6-2, 210, Jr., QB: Reiging SD7 player of the year threw for 2,590 yards and 28 TDs; ran for 1,624 yards and 34 TDs. Has offers from N.C. State, UNC and Clemson.

Sage Surratt, East Lincoln, 6-2, 190, Soph., WR/FS: All-conference as a freshman, Surratt caught 55 passes for 843 yards and 11 touchdowns

THREE CAN’T-MISS GAMES

Forestview at East Lincoln, Sept. 12: Big South 3A championship contender Forestview takes on the favorite in the 2A Southern District 7 league.

Lincolton at East Lincoln, Oct. 3: The county game of the year every year usually has conference championship implications. This year shouldn’t be any different.

Maiden at Lincolnton, Nov. 7: Maiden enters the season with 501 career wins and if the Catawba County Blue Devils get this game, it could bring a league title.

Union County

FAVORITES

Monroe (Rocky River 2A): Coming off a N.C. 2AA state finals appearance, Redhawks return 12 starters and plenty of speed from a 13-3 team. Chase Byrum (1,661 yards rushing, 21 TDs) leads talented team.

Sun Valley (Southern Carolina 3A): 30 lettermen return from a 7-5 team. Sun Valley did lose 31 seniors and 15 starters, however.

CONTENDERS

Weddington (Southern Carolina 3A): Coming off an 11-3 season for coach Tim Carson.

Forest Hills (Rocky River 2A): The Yellow Jackets were 4-1 in league play last season and return 11 starters and more team speed.

DARK HORSE

Piedmont (Southern Carolina 3A): Former AL Brown coach Ron Massey has a young team led by senior QB Cameron Tripp (1,773 yards passing, 16 TDs), but 10 starters back.

Parkwood (Rocky River 2A): Rebels were 8-5 last season and return 20 lettermen and 11 starters, including Max Robinson (314 rushing, 659 receiving, 143 kick return yards) and all of their running backs.

FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH

Malik Covington, Monroe, 6-1, 195, Sr., OL: Preseason all-state pick had 29 pancake blocks and 24 knockdowns last season.

Albert Funderburk, Sun Valley, 6-1, 190, Sr., RB: Reigning Southern Carolina offensive player of the year rushed for 2,137 yards and 16 TDs last season.

Connor Gerlits, Cuthbertson, 6-0, 205, Sr., LB: All-conference pick had 91 tackles, 10 sacks and three fumble recoveries last season.

Myles Moore, Weddington, 6-1, 205, Jr., LB: All-conference star had 105 tackles and three interceptions last season

Rudiger Yearick, Metrolina Christian, 6-3, 195, Jr., QB: NCISAA all-state pick threw for 1,588 yards and 16 TDs and ran for 568 yards and 9 scores. Threw to all-state teammate Logan Shumate for 690 yards and 8 scores in 8 games.

THREE CAN’T-MISS GAMES

Weddington at Monroe, Sept. 12: Good non-conference game between two of the county’s elite teams.

Weddington at Sun Valley, Oct. 24: Two teams expect to challenge for the league title meet. County game of the year?

Monroe at Forest Hills, Nov. 7: County rivals should both have a say in who wins the Rocky River title. This game could decide it.

York County, S.C.

FAVORITES

Rock Hill Northwestern (Region III 4A): The Air Raid offense has graduated two great quarterbacks in recent years – Justin Worley was just named the starter at Tennessee and Mason Rudolph is a freshman at Oklahoma State – but the team rolls on. It’s ranked No. 1 in the state in several preseason polls.

Rock Hill South Pointe (Region III 3A): South Pointe is back in 3A for the first time since 2011. It spent two years in 3A and lost in the state finals in 2010 and won in 2011. Lancaster also dropped from 4A for the first time and joins South Pointe in this league.

CONTENDER

York (Region III 4A): Team is 30-10 the past three seasons under coach Bobby Carroll. Eight of those 10 losses are to Northwestern or South Pointe.

DARK HORSE

Rock Hill (Region III 4A): The Bearcats have a tough schedule and a new coach, Bubba Pittman, who played at the school in the early ‘90s. Pittman was an assistant at Northwestern and will bring the Trojans’ “Air Raid” offense to Northwestern’s biggest rival.

FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH

Deshaw Andrews, York, 6-4, 240, Sr., QB: Only senior quarterback in Region III 4A. He threw for 31 touchdowns last season against only five interceptions.

Dupree Hart, Rock Hill Northwestern, 5-7, 160, Sr., WR: MaxPreps preseason All-American had 33 touchdown catches last season, broke AJ Green’s career reception record and is 14 catches from tying Green’s state record for receiving TDs in a career (62). Hart has committed to College of Charleston for baseball.

Marveon Mobley, Rock Hill South Pointe, 6-1, 182, Sr., QB/DB: Had 55 takles, two sacks and eight interceptions last season.

DeShaun McFadden, Rock Hill, 5-9, 170, Sr., WR/DB: Moving to offense this season after starring on defense last season. Hopes to help end a streak of four straight losing seasons.

Daurice Simpson, York, DB, 5-11, 180, Sr., WR: Moving from WR to safety and has offers from Youngstown State and N.C. Central. Simpson has great speed.

THREE CAN’T-MISS GAMES

Duncan Byrnes at Rock Hill Northwestern, Aug. 22: ESPNU will televise this rivalry game between state powers. Northwestern won the S.C. Division II 4A state championship last year. Byrnes lost to Dutch Fork in the semifinals last season.

South Pointe at Northwestern, Sept. 19: With South Pointe dropping to 3A, this hot rivalry becomes a non-conference game. It’ll still be a big game. South Pointe lost to Stratford in the Division II semifinals last season, one game short of an all-county state final with Northwestern.

York at Northwestern, Oct. 3: Northwestern-York could go a long way in helping to determine the conference championship.

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