Lake Norman Magazine

Return of the Friday night lights

Hopewell's Denzel Heath (second from left).
Hopewell's Denzel Heath (second from left). MARTY PRICE

The 2011 high school football season is almost here, with local teams already in practice and readying for kickoff later this month.

While 2010 was a year of rebuilding and reloading for most of the Lake Norman area squads, teams like Hopewell and Mooresville are looking to take the next step in challenging two-time defending Iredell-Mecklenburg Conference champion Mallard Creek for the league crown this season.

Hopewell, led by first-year coach David Johnson (just hired last month) and his spread offense, will rely on senior tailback-linebacker-safety Denzel Heath to make big plays on both sides of the ball. Meanwhile, Mooresville, the most improved team in 2010 (going from 0-11 in 2009 to 8-4 and 5-2 in the I-Meck in Coach Hal Capps’ first season) hopes to take the next step behind running back Brandon Jones and defensive playmakers Charles Wilkes (71 tackles, nine sacks) and Scott Markofski (99 tackles).

Hough (2-8, 0-7), Lake Norman (2-9, 1-6) and North Mecklenburg (3-7, 2-5) all struggled last year, but look to climb the I-Meck standings this season. Hough, in only its second year of existence under Coach Bobby Collins, will depend on offensive playmakers including running back Quintarius Jordan and Brandon Mobley, while Lake Norman and Coach Rob McNeely look to returning starting quarterback Will Scott (1,383 yards passing, 13 touchdowns). Meanwhile, North Meck’s Mike Bradley hopes to get the ball to his best athlete in Terrence Clyburn early and often.

East Lincoln looks to reclaim control in the Southern Piedmont Conference, where archrival Lincolnton most likely stands in the way of Coach Mike Byus and standout running back Marcus “Bubba” McDowell. Lake Norman Charter joins the SPC for the first time in the school’s second-year as a varsity program.

In the private school ranks, Southlake Christian looks for a repeat performance of 2010, where they went 9-3 and advanced all the way to the NCISAA 2A state semifinals. The Eagles, under 11-year veteran Coach Rich Landis, will depend heavily on a senior-laden offensive and defensive line that features Josh Furrow, Taylor Jurney, Troy Lowden and Stephen Bolten. Davidson Day officially begins its varsity program under Coach Chad Grier with his standout quarterback and son, sophomore Will Grier (28 touchdown passes last year).

Spotlight: Hopewell's Denzel HeathDenzel Heath never shies away from contact. Whether he is running the ball or stalking an opposing offense from his linebacker or safety position, Heath is always around the football.

“Denzel is as advertised,” says Hopewell coach David Johnson. “The kids really look up to him on both sides of the ball. We are going to use him to our advantage all over the field as one of the focal points of our offense and defense.”

Heath, who rushed for 432 yards and seven touchdowns while splitting time with all I-Meck tailback Dondre Lewis-Freeman last year, will be the main man in Johnson’s spread attack in 2011.

Heath, who has interest from Clemson among others, will have no trouble adjusting to the new system as his football and athletic IQ has always come natural from his father, Lee, who spent eight years in the Atlanta Braves’ organization (1988-1996) and his uncle, Rodney, played for the Cincinnati Bengals for three years (1999-2001). While Denzel Heath will be a major focus, his younger brother, Dominique, a rising sophomore, is looking to breakout this season as one of the next Hopewell football stars.

Must-see gamesDavidson Day at Harrells Christian, Aug. 19: Patriots first varsity game ever against a perennial state power.

Hough at North Mecklenburg, Sept. 30: Most of the Huskies roster once donned a Viking uniform. Who will have the upper hand in 2011?

East Lincoln at Lincolnton, Sept. 30: Bitter rivalry usually decides the Southern Piedmont Conference title.

Lake Norman at Mooresville, Oct. 28: The Blue Devils embarrassed cross-town rival 42-14 in 2010 – will the Wildcats respond?

North Mecklenburg at Hopewell, Oct. 28: One of the state’s best rivalries in every sport. Will the game be for more than bragging rights?