Here are high school football previews, compiled by correspondent Jay Edwards, for Alexander, Anson, Ashe, Avery County, Richmond and Watauga counties.
Head Coach: Butch Carter (2nd Year as Alexander Central head football coach, 111-84 overall)
2016 Record (Conference): 7-4 (3-4 in North Piedmont conference (NPC))
2017 Conference: Northwestern 3A/4A
Returning Starters: 10 (5 offense; 5 defense).
Returning Lettermen: 14
Key Returning Starters: Bryson Godfrey, Sr., RB (6-0, 180); Gunnar Anderson, Sr., QB (6-2, 180); Devon Weiss, Sr., RB/LB (5-10, 195); Isaac Chapman, Jr., OL/DL (6-3, 285); Kendall Flowers, Sr., WR/DB (5-9, 155); Lyndon Strickland, Jr., DE/TE (6-1, 235).
Key Newcomers: Lucas Walker, Jr., HB/LB (5-10, 170); Tevin Clark, Jr., RB/LB (5-10, 215).
Outlook: The Cougars have many reasons – including senior RB’s, Bryson Godfrey (1496 yards rushing, 14 touchdowns) and Devon Weiss (1,211 yards rushing, 19 touchdowns) and QB Gunnar Anderson (1,318 yards passing, 16 touchdown passes) – to believe they can challenge for a Northwestern 3A/4A conference title in their first year back in the league. Alexander Central could be a factor deeper into the postseason if their defense, led by senior, DL Isaac Chapman and DB, Kendall Flowers, can be a little stingier.
Head Coach: Ralph Jackson (3rd year as Anson County football coach/5-18 at Anson).
2016 Record (Conference): 4-8 (1-4 in the Southern Carolinas’ conference/3A).
2017 Conference: Rocky River conference/2A.
Returning Starters: 12
Returning Lettermen: N/A.
Key Returning Starters: Wesley Lear, So., QB (5-11, 195); Octavion Harrell, Sr., ATH (5-11, 170); Kevin Dunlap, Sr., RB (5-10, 205); Tyheem Hubbard, Jr., DB (5-8, 175); Camden Collins, Sr., OL (5-10, 305); Zack Sikes, Jr., OL (5-11, 290); Alex Walsh, Jr., OL/DL (6-0, 250); Deontrez Davis, Sr., WR/DB (5-11, 170); Marshall Little, Sr., DL/TE (5-10, 215); Jaylin Gaddy, Sr., OL/DL (6-1, 290); Laquan Davis, Sr., LB (5-8, 185); Kobe Lindsey, Sr., DB (6-0, 180).
Key Newcomers: Dequan Sturdivant, So., RB (5-9, 185); Shihiem Sturdivant, Jr., DL (6-2, 200); Jessie Medlin, So., TE/DE (6-1, 220); Jalen Marshall, So., ATH (5-7, 165); Adrian Clark, Jr., OL/DL (6-4, 270).
Outlook: The Bearcats made a big jump from one in 2015 to four wins last season and a playoff berth, despite dropping the final four games of the season. However, with 12 starters back, including sophomore QB, Wesley Lear (1,258 yards passing), senior WR, Octavion Harrell (41 catches for 482 yards and five touchdowns), an experienced offensive line and a solid defense in the Rocky River 2A conference (without Monroe and Parkwood), Anson could get back in the mix in the league race and back into the postseason.
Head Coach: Brian Hampton (6th year as Ashe County football coach).
2016 Record (Conference): 4-7 (3-4 in the Mountain Valley Athletic 1A/2A conference).
2017 Conference: Mountain Valley Athletic 1A/2A conference (2A).
Returning Starters: 9 (5 offense; 4 defense).
Returning Lettermen: 18
Key Returning Starters: Grant Thompson, Sr., WR (6-2, 195); Simon Houck, Sr., RB (5-10, 178).
Key Newcomers: N/A.
Outlook: The Huskies proved they could score with anyone, averaging 35 points per game (430 yards of total offense), but also couldn’t stop anyone allowing 45 points per contest. This year, Coach Brian Hampton will again lean on his offensive playmakers, like WR Grant Thompson (64 catches for 1,099 yards and nine touchdowns) and RB Simon Houck, to try get back into the postseason.
Head Coach: Jason Phelps (3rd year as Avery County football coach/4-19 at Avery County).
2016 Record (Conference): 3-9 (1-5 in the Western Highlands 1A/2A conference).
2017 Conference: Western Highlands’ 1A/2A conference (1A).
Returning Starters: 10
Returning Lettermen: 16
Key Returning Starters: Steven Sanchez, Sr., K/RB/DB/KR (5-9, 175); Van McCollum, Sr., QB/DB/KR (6-0, 175); Sam McCollum, Jr., RB/DB/Kr (5-11, 170); Josh McClellan, Sr., RB/LB/LS (5-11, 185); Ashton Haggins, Sr., OL/DE (5-10, 200).
Key Newcomers: Caleb Hicks, Sr., OL/DL (6-4, 215).
Outlook: Avery County has had only one winning season in the last decade (11-4 in 2010), but took a step in right direction last year going 3-8, after a 1-10 mark in 2015. This year, the Vikings look to take another leap forward, led by do-it-all, senior K/RB/DB/KR, Steven Sanchez, who looks to lead his team back to the postseason.
Head Coach: Bryan Till (1st year as Richmond Senior head coach)
2016 Record (Conference): 9-4, 4-1 in Southeastern 4A.
2017 Conference: Sandhills Athletic Conference (SAC)/4A
Returning Starters: 6 (3 offense; 3 defense)
Returning Lettermen: 30
Key Returning Starters/Players: Jalen Baldwin, Sr., WR (5-9, 170); Jake Ransom, Jr., OL (6-2, 265); Chase Coulthard, Sr., OL (6-2, 245); Delon Wall, Sr., DE/LB (6-2, 220); Savion Streeter, SR., OLB (5-10, 200); Andre Ellerbe, Sr., LB (6-2, 190); Bobby Terry, JR., WR/RB (5-10, 185); Jahyee Stanback, Jr., FS (6-1, 170); Jaquan Everett, Sr., SS (5-10, 170); Dante Miller, Sr., RB (5-10, 190).
Key Newcomers: N/A.
Outlook: The Raiders will be tested early and often in a brutal schedule that includes state power, Butler and finishes at conference favorite, Scotland County. But Richmond Senior has a tradition of finding a way to be a contender and first-year coach, Bryan Till, looks to add to that lore with a younger team (six starters back). The Raiders will look to playmakers on both sides of the ball, Jalen Baldwin and Bobby Terry on offense and Savion Streeter and Delon Wall on defense, as the team gains confidence and experience.
Head Coach: Ryan Habich (5th year as Watauga football coach).
2016 Record (Conference): 9-4 (6-1 in the Northwestern 3A/4A conference).
2017 Conference: Northwestern 3A/4A conference (3A).
Returning Starters: 10 (3 offense; 7 defense).
Returning Lettermen: 15
Key Returning Starters: John Headlee, Sr., OL/DL (6-5, 275); Alex McConnell, Sr., DL/OL (6-5, 245); Phillip Shukis, Sr., TE/LB (6-3, 215); Micah Mast, Sr., DL/OL (6-0, 220); Jamie Gough, Sr., WR (5-10, 170); Zach Johnson, Sr., WR (5-9, 160); Isaiah Finger, Sr., TE/DL (6-3, 230); Jackson Greense, Jr., QB/DB (5-9, 165); Ben Crichter, Jr., FB/LB (5-9, 165); Braeden Myers, Jr., SB/LB (5-9, 165).
Key Newcomers: Eli Suggs, Jr., FB/LB (5-10, 190); Zach West, Jr., SB/LB (5-9, 160); Eli Bentley, Jr., OL/DL (6-3, 215); Austin Phillips, Sr., OL/DL (6-1, 230); Anderson Castle, So., QB/DB (5-10, 170); Jaidon Bond, So., SB/DB (5-9, 160); Sterling Sauls, So., OL/DL (6-0, 215).
Outlook: The Pioneers have won 33 games in the last four years, and look for their 5th straight winning season in 2017. Watauga will have to lean on their defense first, led by senior DL, Josh Headlee and Alex McConnell, while a Pioneer offense that averaged 47 points per game reloads with younger talent to help them get back in the hunt in the Northwestern 3A/4A conference and into the postseason.