Here are Iredell County high school football previews, as compiled by Observer correspondent Jay Edwards
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5 Iredell Players To Watch
AJ Harris, Pine Lake Prep, Sr., RB/LB: Will rarely come off the field for Pine Lake, which was 4-2 in league play last season.
Cole Jackson, Lake Norman, Sr., RB: had 2,220 yards rushing and receiving with 27 total TDs.
Matt Martinez, Mooresville, Sr., LB: Martinez had 60 tackles for an 8-4 team last season.
Brady Pope, South Iredell, Sr., QB: Pope threw for 3,624 yards and 40 touchdowns last season
Brennan Settle, Statesville Christian, QB, Sr: nearly 2,500 total yards and 32 total touchdowns last season
Iredell Team Previews
Head Coach: Rob McNeely (8th year as Lake Norman football coach/52-35 overall).
2016 Record (Conference): 12-1 (7-0 in the North Piedmont conference (NPC).
2017 Conference: I-Meck/4A.
Returning Starters: 6 (4 offense; 2 defense).
Returning Lettermen: 21
Key Returning Starters: Cole Jackson, Sr., RB (5-10, 175); Dylan Bahr, Sr., TE/WR (6-3, 200); July Carson, Sr., C (6-1, 275); Sean Riley, Sr., OL/DL (6-3, 250); Joey Stange, Sr., WR (5-9, 169).
Key Newcomers: Theo Hunter-Eldridge, Jr., OL/DL (6-2, 265); Chance Carroll, So, OL/DL (6-3, 230); John France, Sr., DE (6-0, 240).
Outlook: The Wildcats were a perfect 12-0, before a second, home playoff loss to West Forsyth abruptly ended their season. Lake Norman will have plenty of motivation this season as they will rely on reigning NPC player of the year, senior, RB, Cole Jackson (2,200 yards rushing/receiving, 27 TDs). The Wildcats believe they can contend in one of the toughest leagues in the state, I-Meck 4A (Mallard Creek, Hough, Mooresville, etc.), and be a dangerous team in the playoffs.
Head Coach: Marty Paxton (2nd year as Mooresville football coach/64-57 overall)
2016 Record (Conference): 8-4 (6-1 in the North Piedmont conference (NPC))
2017 Conference: I-Meck/4A
Returning Starters: 8 (4 offense; 4 defense).
Returning Lettermen: 35
Key Returning Starters: Laz Hayes, Sr., RB (5-11, 195); Jaleel Johnson, Sr., CB (6-1, 190); Matt Martinez, Sr., S (6-3, 185); Storm Monroe, So., LB (5-11, 215); Chris Murrell, Jr., QB (6-0, 185); Damarcus Mills, Jr., OL (6-7, 315); Todd Norman, Jr., C (6-2, 230).
Key Newcomers: Connor Mort, Jr., LB (6-2, 200); Ta
Outlook: Mooresville has proven to be a consistent winner in any league with 37 victories in the last four years. The Blue Devils will be tested this year as the I-Meck 4A reforms and is loaded with Mallard Creek, Hough, Lake Norman and more. Mooresville has the talent – led by junior QB, Chris Murrell, senior, RB Laz Hayes on offense, and sophomore LB, Storm Monroe, senior DB’s Jaleel Johnson and Matt Martinez – to be a major player in the I-Meck race and a dangerous playoff matchup.
Head Coach: David Lewis (2nd year as North Iredell football coach).
2016 Record (Conference): 0-11, 0-7 in the North Piedmont conference.
2017 Conference: North Piedmont conference/3A.
Returning Starters: 11 (4 offense; 7 defense).
Returning Lettermen: 20
Key Returning Starters: Drake Liles, Sr., DE (6-2, 225); Riley Williams, Jr., OL (6-4, 260); John Menscer, Sr., WR (6-0, 165); Logan Elkins, Sr., LB (6-1, 180); Noah Ruppe, Sr., LB (6-0, 195).
Key Newcomers: Donya Stevenson, Jr., RB (5-9, 165); Matthew Rash, Jr., QB/LB (6-2, 200); David Highman, Jr., QB/RB/WR (6-0, 180).
Outlook: The 0-11, Raiders took their lumps last year in a winless season, where they scored only 138 points all year. But second-year coach, David Lewis, and company are confident they can get back in the win column and be a factor in a smaller, NPC, with Lake Norman and Mooresville gone (to I-Meck 4A conference).
PINE LAKE PREP
Head Coach: Brett Hayford (4th year as Pine Lake Prep football coach/23-15)
2016 Record (Conference): 5-8 (4-2 in the South Piedmont 1A conference (SPC 1A)).
2017 Conference: Piedmont Athletic conference (PAC) 7.
Returning Starters: 4
Returning Lettermen: 5
Key Returning Starters: A.J. Harris, Sr., RB/LB (6-0, 200); Kris Petroski, So., RB/DB (5-8, 170); Coy Pagliughi, Sr., OL/LB (6-1, 185); Parker Scheppele, Sr., TE/LB (6-0, 180); Jack Long, Jr., RB/LB (5-10, 185).
Key Newcomers: Zack Morlidge, So., RB/LB (6-0, 180); Jake Morlidge, So., RB/LB (6-0, 175).
Outlook: The Pride has had recent success, winning 18 games in the 2014 and 2015 seasons combined. But with only four starters returning to a team that won five games a year ago, Pine Lake Prep faces an uphill battle in the new, Piedmont Athletic conference (PAC) 7 with a very young team. Coach Brett Hayford will look two-way standouts, A.J. Harris, Kris Petroski and Jack Long, to stay in the PAC 7 race and in the playoff hunt.
Head Coach: Scott Miller (8th year as South Iredell football coach/72-21 overall).
2016 Record (Conference): 9-4 (5-2 in the North Piedmont conference).
2017 Conference: North Piedmont conference/3AA.
Returning Starters: 12 (5 offense; 7 defense).
Returning Lettermen: 34
Key Returning Starters: Brady Pope, Sr., QB (6-3, 190); Chandler Medeiros, Sr., DL (6-4, 250); Derrick Dulin, Jr., LB (6-1, 215); Garrett Jordan, Sr., OL (6-3, 285); Trey Page, Sr., WR (6-0, 160); Gabe Young, Sr., DL (6-0, 279); Tavis White, Sr., RB (6-0, 180); Nick Hall, Sr., DB (6-0, 180); Hasin Hall, Sr., DB (5-6, 140).
Key Newcomers: N/A.
Outlook: South Iredell has been a consistent winner under Coach Scott Miller, averaging 10 wins per season for the last seven years. This season, the Vikings have the experience with 12 starters back and firepower, led by senior QB, Brady Pope (3,624 yards passing, 40 touchdown passes last season/Charlotte 49ers
Head Coach: Randall Gusler (12th year as Statesville head football coach/81-60).
2016 Record (Conference): 5-7, (4-3 in the North Piedmont conference).
2017 Conference: North Piedmont conference (NPC).
Returning Starters: 11 (6 offense; 5 defense).
Returning Lettermen: 24
Key Returning Starters: Bryant Young, Sr., QB (6-0, 195); Kortney Maddox, Sr., WR (6-2, 180); Brandon Joyner, Sr., WR (5-10, 155); Derreco Davis, Jr., RB (5-7, 180); Jabril Williams, Jr., OL (6-1, 295); Ed Johnson, Sr., OL (6-1, 265); Chris Gonzaga, Sr., OL (6-1, 275); Ticara Clark, Jr., DE (6-1, 245); Jaheim Simpson, Jr., DL (6-4, 245); Deondra Everhart, Sr., DE (5-10, 245); Dustin Weed, Sr., LB (6-1, 205); Jaquan Harris, Jr., DB (5-9, 175); Armorie Harrison, Sr., DB (5-11, 175); Sha
Key Newcomers: N/A.
Outlook: Statesville averaged nearly 10 wins per season from 2012 to 2015, but struggled in 2016 with only five wins. This year, the Greyhounds look to get back on track in the all 3A, NPC without Lake Norman and Mooresville, and have the talent -- led by seniors, QB Bryant Young, Brandon Joyner and junior DE, Ticara Clark
Head Coach: Angelo Cox (3rd year as Statesville Christian football coach; 44-7 overall, 12-2 at Stateville Christiain)
2016 Record (Conference): 12-2
2017 Conference: NCISAA Piedmont Athletic conference 6 (PAC 6/new/NCISAA Division III)
Returning Starters: 12 (3 offense; 9 defense).
Returning Lettermen: 12
Key Returning Starters: Brennan Settle, Sr., QB (6-1, 180); Deshon Holmes, Sr., WR (6-0, 190); Kevin Dewalt, Sr., DT/OL (6-0, 290); Cole Cameli, Sr., SS (6-2, 160); Casey Zarbynicky, Sr., OL/DT (6-2, 285).
Key Newcomers: Izaiah Gathings, Jr., WR (6-4, 205); A.J. Lanton, Sr., DB (5-8, 170); Jakarae Williams, Jr., DE (6-4, 260).
Outlook: The Lions won the state championship in their first year in NCISAA Division III, behind an offense that averaged 44 points per game. This year, with senior QB Brennan Settle (245l passing/rushing yards and 32 total touchdowns) and a defense that returns nine starters, le by seniors, DT, Kevin Dewalt, and SS, Cole Cameli (133 tackles), the Lions believe they have the talent and experience to repeat. But Statesville Christian will have to replace some key pieces like all-state RB, Canaan Cox (moved to Iowa), if they going to win back-to-back titles.
Head Coach: Monte Simmons (3rd year as West Iredell football coach).
2016 Record (Conference): 3-8, (1-6 in the North Piedmont conference (NPC)).
2017 Conference: Northwest Foothills 2A conference.
Returning Starters: 13
Returning Lettermen: 20
Key Returning Starters: Dillian Davis, Sr., QB (6-1, 175); Keena Bunch, Sr., Slot (5-9, 175); John Payne, Sr., LB (6-0, 180); Keyshawn Horton, Sr., LB (5-10, 215); Chase Gayllon, Sr., DE (6-2, 220).
Key Newcomers: Shidarius McHenery, Sr., Slot/QB(6-1, 185); Bernie Brewly, Sr., Slot/OL (5-11, 165); Say
Outlook: West Iredell took a step in the right direction last year going 3-8, which matched their win total from 2013-15 combined. This year, with 13 starters back -- led by senior QB Dillian Davis (1400 yards of total offense) and Slot Keena Bunch on offense and senior LB