1. Independence (4A)
2007 RECORD: 13-3
OUTLOOK: Quarterback Anthony Carrothers is back after throwing for 1,700 yards and 18 touchdowns as a sophomore last season. Taylor Caldwell is a threat at running back, and Michael Rhynes (6-foot-5) could be an impact receiver. The Patriots are hungry after having their streak of seven straight N.C. championships snapped. The defense will have many new faces and must develop quickly. Top returning starters are tackle Kortne Briggs (6-2, 280 pounds) and linebacker Jayme Watson. The Patriots lost three games last season and were ahead in each. An experienced coaching staff will help.
2. Shelby (2A)
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2007 RECORD: 14-2
OUTLOOK: Perennial power lost in the title game last season after winning the championship in 2006. Halfback Larry Raper (committed to Clemson) is one of the state's fastest players and should get the ball more this season. The Golden Lions always fare well against a nonconference schedule loaded with larger schools, and have sizeable linemen for a 2A team, including Quevalas Murray (210 pounds), Stewart Wallace (240) and Chavalo Wright (230). Mix in the usual speed on both sides of the ball, and it should be another season with a deep playoff run.
3. Charlotte Catholic (3A)
2007 RECORD: 13-3
OUTLOOK: The Cougars have two straight losses in the state final after winning in 2005 and '04. Coach Jim Oddo is replacing 15 starters, but there's always talent on hand. Running backs Joe Felts (812 rushing yards) and Jadarious Bruce (333) are solid, and will need the new line to develop. Tight end/defensive end Tucker Windle (seven TD catches) committed to Virginia. Returnees Andrew Muller, Mark Moll (six sacks), John O'Boyle (six interceptions), Nick Gatto and Ben Herbert will anchor the defense. A tough nonconference schedule will be a challenge.
4. Belmont South Point (3A)
2007 RECORD: 12-2
OUTLOOK: Optimism is high with 13 starters back, including eight on offense, from a team that went three rounds into the playoffs. The Red Raiders topped 30 points eight times and should be in good shape with quarterback Desmond Lowery, who ran for 1,436 yards and passed for 719 last season. The offensive line is large and experienced, and fullback Aaron Crumbley ran for 1,515 yards and 19 touchdowns as a sophomore last season. Defensive back Michael Lewis leads a group of five starters back on defense.
5. Butler (4A)
2007 RECORD: 12-1
OUTLOOK: The Bulldogs are replacing several three-year starters, so the new folks must catch on quickly. Talent is there, and the junior varsity was undefeated last season. Hawatha Bell (6-1, 225) was an all-conference linebacker last season, and could double at running back. Tyler Kell was an all-conference lineman, and keep an eye on huge junior Kendal Lamm (6-5, 250). Allonte Tuppins is a solid two-way lineman. The offensive backfield will be new, but the Bulldogs are accustomed to winning. Look for improvement as the season wears on.
6. Rock Hill South Pointe (4A)
2007 RECORD: 9-4
OUTLOOK: The third-year Stallions have South Carolina's top recruit in quarterback/defensive back Stephon Gilmore, who last season threw for 1,679 yards and 13 touchdowns, and rushed for 1,145 yards and 12 touchdowns. North Carolina's top recruit, former Independence safety DeVonte Holloman, transferred in during the summer. He joins receiver Charles Holmes (committed to South Carolina) and experienced performers in running back Devin Wherry, defensive back Pat Burris and end Kayton Peoples.
7. Kannapolis Brown (3A)
2007 RECORD: 11-2
OUTLOOK: Team speed is good and 12 starters return, including Artrele Lewis, who rushed for 968 yards and 13 touchdowns last season. He also returned two kicks for scores. The Wonders are one of North Carolina's most consistent programs and should continue winning. Back are all-conference picks Jamil Lott (defensive back), Zach Massey (tight end) and Dwayne Stroud (defensive end). The defensive front must solidify, but the offense should be effective.
8. West Rowan (3A)
2007 RECORD: 11-2
OUTLOOK: Twelve returning starters include several along both lines. That will aid K.P. Parks, who rushed for 2,536 yards and 33 touchdowns as a sophomore last season. Offensive linemen Tim Pangburn (300 pounds) and defensive end Chris Smith are back after all-conference seasons. The secondary will be new, but the offense is deep, talented and experienced. If it can spring Parks consistently, this could be a breakthrough season in Mount Ulla.
9. Rock Hill Northwestern (4A)
2007 RECORD: 12-2
OUTLOOK: The pass-happy Trojans topped 30 points nine times and went three rounds into the playoffs last season. Justin Worley (6-4) takes over at quarterback and will have a deep receiving corps. Jarrett Neely is a key returnee at running back/receiver. Last season, he ran for 674 yards and 13 scores, and caught 77 passes for 930 yards and 10 touchdowns. If Worley gets protection and the defense shines, the Trojans will be contenders.
10. Hickory (3A)
2007 RECORD: 12-1
OUTLOOK: The Red Tornadoes return a 1,000-yard passer ( Kevin Shelton), 600-yard rusher ( Keyshell Geter) and 400-yard receiver ( Trevin Parks). Most of the offensive linemen are new, but if they develop, points shouldn't be a problem for a team that topped 30 eight times last season. Defense will be the strength, with eight starters back. The defensive front includes Chavis Shuford (all-conference last season), Morgan Brown (6-7, 335) and Clay Johnson (6-2, 245). Defensive back David Dula also is an all-conference returnee.
11. Indian Trail Sun Valley (3A)
2007 RECORD: 9-3
OUTLOOK: The Spartans hope to erase memories of last year's first-round playoff loss and have plenty of firepower in all-state receiver Ray-Ray Davis (12 touchdown catches), quarterback Andy Capone (2,479 passing yards and 26 touchdowns) and running back Marcus Mosely (500 rushing yards). Several of the linemen will be new. The defense should be strong with returnees Darious Kirtz, Mike Crawford, Terry Staton and Jeremy Busby. Coach Scott Stein has this program pointed in the right direction.
12. Albemarle (1A)
2007 RECORD: 10-5
OUTLOOK: Eight starters are back on offense and nine on defense. All-state defensive end Denico Autry (6-5, 225) and tackle Steven Branch (6-2, 245) will be forces up front, and there is plenty of speed in the secondary. Jamar Corpening and A.J. Little should get most of the carries in a rushing attack that is experienced and talented. The Bulldogs must overcome the emotional loss of teammates Tevis Swaringen, Justin Cowan and Andrico Lilly, who were killed in July in an auto accident.
13. East Lincoln (2A)
2007 RECORD: 10-5
OUTLOOK: The passing game should thrive with junior quarterback Josh Wilson (1,801 passing yards and 1,099 rushing yards last season), and receivers Keith Rendleman (74 catches, 1,123 yards, 19 touchdowns) and Jason Perry. The offensive line is mostly new, but if it gels, look for plenty of scoring. Five starters are back on defense, including tackles Malik McConnico (58 tackles) and Derek Sullivan (52 tackles), end Ryan Goggio (63 tackles) and linebacker Ryan Nagy (79 tackles).
14. Northwest Cabarrus (3A)
2007 RECORD: 10-3
OUTLOOK: Jeremy Cannon is one of the area's best quarterbacks and threw for 2,635 yards and 19 touchdowns as a sophomore last season. He also ran for 866 yards and 19 scores. He'll throw to talented receivers Kris Farley, Graham Wright and Josh Cannon. Five starters are back on defense, including four on the line. If new linebackers and the secondary develop quickly, it could be a fun season for the Trojans.
15. South Mecklenburg (4A)
2007 RECORD: 0-11
OUTLOOK: An ineligible player wiped out last season's seven victories, but the Sabres could be one of the area's surprise teams. They must learn to win close games, after losing by one, three and seven last season. Halfback Tim Palmer ran for 1,301 yards and 20 touchdowns last season, his second straight 1,000-yard season. Fullback Spencer Shuey (240 pounds) is an excellent blocker and will work the inside to balance Palmer's outside speed.
16. Lenoir Hibriten (2A)
2007 Record: 8-5
OUTLOOK: The top three running backs in the Panthers' wishbone are back, including Quin Smith (1,075 yards; committed to South Carolina). The offensive line has been together for two seasons. Eleven starters are back. The defense is speedier than in the past. Depth will be a concern, as it is with most teams in smaller classifications, but if the Panthers stay healthy, there's enough talent and experience for a successful season.
Also Receiving Votes: Charlotte Country Day (Independent); Salisbury (2A), Charlotte Latin (Ind.), West Charlotte (4A), East Mecklenburg (4A), Lincolnton (2A), Clover, S.C. (4A), South Stanly (1A), Hopewell (4A), Charlotte Victory Christian (Ind.), Myers Park (4A).