High school football teams in North Carolina kick off another season on Monday, when formal practices begin. Following are 10 burning questions about the 2017 season:
1. How good will Mecklenburg County football be?
After dominating N.C. football since the 2000 season, there was a feeling that Mecklenburg dipped in 2016. Does the trend continue in ’17?
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Butler, a longtime state power, returns eight starters. Another, Mallard Creek, returns five. But Mecklenburg County coaches say the depth of talent is still strong and new stars will emerge. In preseason statewide polls, you’ll find as many as five 4A county teams ranked among the top 10. So while there might not be a super team among the public schools, expect football in the county to remain strong.
2. What about the private schools?
With Chad Grier becoming coach at Oceanside (S.C.) Collegiate Academy, Robert Walsh takes over at Davidson Day after coaching the past seven years at Savannah (Ga.) Country Day. In six seasons, Grier’s Patriots teams were 65-9 and won four state championships.
At Charlotte Latin, Larry McNulty will return seven starters from the 2016 state champions. Expect the Hawks to face a challenge in McNulty’s final season from 2016 state runner-up Charlotte Christian. The Knights return 18 starters and 35 lettermen who don’t want to come short up again in the state finals. Christian might be as a big a state-title favorite as there is in any class.
3. Three teams that could make surprising runs?
▪ West Mecklenburg is led by North Carolina Tar Heels recruit Dyami Brown, a speedy wide receiver. The Hawks were 9-4 last season, but with 14 starters and multiple Division I recruits on the roster, the spotlight will be bigger.
▪ Harding, 5-7 last season, returns one of the nation’s top five players from the 2019 class in running back Quavaris Crouch and 15 starters total.
▪ Independence first-year coach Mike Natoli is known as an offensive guru and aims to re-invigorate an offense that averaged 14 points in 2016.
4. Three games to mark on the calendar?
▪ Mallard Creek visits Scotland County Aug. 17. The Mavericks, known for size and defense, will try stop Scotland County’s Zamir White, the nation’s No. 1 senior running back. White has committed to Georgia.
▪ Shelby, which has won four consecutive state titles, will play at S.C. state champion Rock Hill South Pointe on Sept. 22.
▪ The Bell Game will move to the end of the season (where it belongs) when Concord visits A.L. Brown Nov. 3.
5. What are the key dates?
▪ N.C. practice starts Monday.
▪ Games start Aug. 18.
▪ Playoffs begin Nov. 3 (private) Nov. 10 (public).
▪ State finals are Nov. 10 and Nov. 17 (private) and Dec. 8-9 (public)
6. Has the Observer considered making more schools eligible for Sweet 16 polls?
Yes, starting this fall. They will also be eligible for postseason awards.
7. Ok, so who’s No. 1 in the preseason Sweet 16?
C’mon. We can’t share that yet. It will publish in a few weeks.
8. Three players to see this season no matter what
▪ Charlotte Christian junior quarterback Garrett Shrader recently received an offer from Alabama. He seems to be adding more big schools by the week.
▪ Shelby’s Dax Hollifield is one of the nation’s best linebackers. Alabama, Florida State, North Carolina and Virginia Tech are among the schools that have offered him.
▪ East Mecklenburg’s Khamal Howard, who ran for more than 2,000 yards last season, can claim a third straight conference offensive player of the year award.
9. How many new coaches are there?
There are 28 in the area, including nine in Mecklenburg County (Ardrey Kell’s Kyle Brey; Walsh, Davidson Day; Garinger’s Jeff Caldwell; Hopewell’s Quinn Martin; Hough’s Matt Jenkins; Independence’s Natoli; North Mecklenburg’s Eric Morman; Olympic’s Jason Fowler; and Rocky River’s Orlando Gray)
10. Who are the state powers outside of the area?
4A: Wake Forest, Scotland County, Raleigh Sanderson
3A: Greensboro Dudley, Hillsborough Orange, Eastern Guilford
2A: East Duplin, North Davidson, Reidsville
1A: Tarboro, Edenton Holmes, Murphy