In alphabetical order, here are 10 high school football teams in the Observer’s coverage area to watch this fall:
Belmont South Point: The Red Raiders turned a 1-3 start into a 3A state championship last season. First-year coach Adam Hodge hopes to continue the success behind powerhouse fullback Jake Alexander (1,800 yards rushing in 2016).
Butler: Butler lost 27 seniors, but standouts return in running back Nijere Peoples (1,351 yards rushing and 28 touchdowns last season), offensive tackle Cam Taylor and linebacker Kaleb Simmons. The Bulldogs will again be a favorite to win the Southwestern 4A and chase a state title.
Charlotte Catholic: The Cougars are 45-4 the past three seasons under coach Mike Brodowicz. Moving from 4A to 3A this season, Catholic returns college-recruited talent in running backs Milan Howard and Michael Neel on offense. Linebacker Chase Foley, safety Brian Jacobs and tackle Ari Rodriguez are back on defense.
Charlotte Christian: When a 10-win, NCISAA Division I state runner-up finish feels like a disappointing season, you know how good your program is. Knights coach Jason Estep has won three of the past five state titles and seeks another with 18 starters back, including Stanford recruit Justus Woods, a senior running back.
Harding: Surprise? With fewer than 30 players last year, the Rams (5-7) made a rare postseason appearance. This year’s team returns 15 starters and will have more than 40 players and seven Division I recruits. For the first time in a long time, Harding has talent and depth.
Lenoir Hibriten: The Panthers (14-1 last season) lost to eventual state champion South Point in the state semifinals. They move to the Northwest Foothills 2A conference with enough stars to make another title run: Running back McKinley Witherspoon (1,055 yards rushing, 17 TDs), linebacker Charles Tassinari (84 tackles), defensive backs Miles Simon (six interceptions) and Skylin Thomas (seven interceptions).
Mallard Creek: Mallard Creek won three straight 4AA state championships from 2013-15. A nine-win season a year ago ended with a second-round playoff loss to Butler. So the Mavericks should be motivated. And, as usual, they are talented, led by massive defensive linemen Jordan Davis and Charles Johnson.
Myers Park: The Mustangs had one of the best seasons in school history last year, winning 11 games. Dillon (S.C.) transfer quarterback Brayden Hawkins leads a deep team poised to make a run toward another double-digit winning season.
Rock Hill South Pointe: The Stallions, who have won three straight state championships (two AAA, one AAAA), are led by senior quarterback Derion Kendrick, who committed to Clemson. Also returning are high-major recruits in defensive back/receiver Steve Gilmore (younger brother of New England Patriots cornerback Stephen Gilmore) and linebacker Elijah Adams.
Shelby: The Golden Lions, 59-7 the past four seasons, have won four straight state championships. Coach Lance Ware returns senior quarterback Malik Sarratt (3,500 yards passing, 44 touchdown passes) and standout linebackers Dax Hollifield (154 tackles, 18 sacks), Jaylon Scott and Will Stiles.
Correspondent Jay Edwards contributed.