Mike Bradley felt like he coached two different teams in his first year as the head coach of the North Mecklenburg football program last season.
The first team began 5-1 and had one of the best records in the I-Meck and in Charlotte. The second limped home, going 1-5, with their only win coming against Mooresville, which finished the season 0-11. The final two losses of the season were just as damaging, losing 42-7 to archrival Hopewell before falling 54-14 to Olympic in the first round of the 4A playoffs.
Bradley and his team hope to write a different story this year, as the team tries to recover from their late season slide and the effects of losing a lot of talent.
"We have a lot to deal with as a program is losing 30 seniors and then 60 to 70 percent of our JV team to Hough," said Bradley. "It's almost like a brand new football team, but we won't worry about what we don't have. We will focus on the players that we do have and go forward."
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The offense starts with senior quarterback Mike Irvin, who has a family tradition of football stardom. Irvin's brothers Robert and Tommy both have played at the college level and have imparted a lot of knowledge to their youngest brother.
Bradley said his quarterback has gotten better after having a great summer.
"We want Mike to be able to manage the game for us, he doesn't have to win all by himself," said Bradley.
A lot of Irvin's success will be directly related to the running game. The Vikings, who lost all I-Meck runner Xavier Joplin, hope the platoon of Jalen McCullough, Chris Thompson and others will work.
The Vikings also lost their top four receiving options, but do have West Charlotte newcomer Terrence Clayburn to help fill the void. Tight ends Andrew Yost and Jon Lopez should also both help in receiving and run blocking.
The offensive line only has one starter back in Thomas Dunlap.
The Viking defense also lost a good amount of talent, but should be tough none the less.
All-everything defensive lineman Latham York is one of the best players in the conference and maybe even the state, and will be expected to play at a high level.
"He is the best football player we have on our team," said Bradley, who said York is being recruited by Navy and Wofford among others. "We think our defense will be a lot more aggressive, a lot faster this year. I think that will allow York to make some big plays for us."
The linebacking corps was also depleted with sophomore Ryan Lemke, who averaged nearly 10 tackles a game in 2009, moving to Hough. Derek Vergata and Jonny Peace hope to pick up the slack.
West Charlotte transfer John Harrison will have to headline a young secondary, where there is a lot of healthy competition.
"We lost a lot overall from last year, but there have been a lot of changes across the board for almost every team in our conference," said Bradley. "I think that gives us an advantage."
Unlike last year, the Vikings could face an enormous challenge early on as they travel to Olympic, host Ardrey Kell and Providence before taking on a tough I-Meck slate.
"This team has a chance to be as good or better than last year, but we are going to have to go out and prove it on the field every week."