Each of the last two seasons, Kannapolis Brown's season has ended without a victory - and without Travis Riley.
Though he had a breakout season in 2009, rushing for more than 1,900 yards, Riley has missed each of the Wonders last two playoff losses because of injuries.
Riley is hoping his off-season rehabilitation and training will keep him healthy this year for a Kannapolis championship push.
The Wonders and most of Cabarrus County's high-school football teams open the 2010 season Friday. Kannapolis travels to Statesville for a 7:30 p.m. start.
Though he spent most of his sophomore season on the junior varsity, Riley rushed for more than 170 yards in the first three playoff victories. He injured his knee in a 3A semifinal win against Kings Mountain and sat out the championship-game loss to Greensboro Dudley.
Last season, Riley became Brown's featured back, racking up eight games with at least 100 yards and three others with more than 200 yards.
He was awarded several Player of the Week awards by different media and The Neighbors of the North named him South Piedmont Conference Player of the Year.
But late in the season, Riley re-injured the same knee and suffered a concussion in Brown's second round playoff win against Asheville Erwin. He was unable to play in the team's third-round loss to Belmont South Point.
This season, Riley, a UNC Chapel Hill commitment, hopes to reverse his late-season troubles.
"We have a pretty special team," he said. "I think this year's senior class ... has a little more talent and leadership."
Among the Wonders' (11-3 overall, 6-1 conference in 2009) other talented players are seniors Martel Campbell (quarterback), Tevin Jones (receiver), Andrew Leslie and Quin Gill (linebackers), and juniors Damien Washington (quarterback/receiver) and Kaleel Hollis (defensive back).
But the Wonders aren't the only Cabarrus County team eying a state title.
With 13 returning starters and the momentum of winning six of its last seven games in 2009, Concord figures as one of several teams capable of dethroning Brown as South Piedmont champions.
Northwest Cabarrus and Hickory Ridge tied Concord for second place in the conference, one game behind the Wonders.
Offensively, the Concord Spiders (6-7, 5-2) are led by running back Dominique Posey (900-plus yards, 18 touchdowns) and receiver Eli Bost, both seniors, and sophomore quarterback B.J. Beecher, who threw for more than 1,100 yards in five games.
Seniors Jalen Brown, Bradley Phillips (both linebackers) and lineman Tevin Barnes lead the defense. All had at least 80 tackles last season.
The team, which went 8-4 overall and 5-2 in conference, returns only three offensive starters, fullback Jordan Russ, center Tatum Johnson and receiver E.J. Rhinehart. Taking over at quarterback is junior Colby Williford, a two-year junior varsity starter.
All-conference lineman D.J. Bostick and leading tackler Rob Atwell (linebacker) lead six returning defensive starters. Junior kicker/punter Bradley Pinion was the SPC's special teams player of the year in 2009.
Four-year starters Danny Book (OL/LB) and Brian Baltimore, who rushed for nearly 2,000 yards last season, helped Hickory Ridge (7-6, 5-2) to its first playoff win.
Cody Cothren will move to quarterback from receiver. Seniors Noble Ajakaiye (lineman) and Dillon Burdette, who is moving from the line to linebacker, topped the Ragin' Bulls in tackles last year.
Part-time starting quarterback Joey Bastine will be asked to distribute the ball to J.M. Robinson's (5-7, 4-3) playmakers, running back Troy Parker and receiver Dominique Bellamy. Expect NaShawn Dingle and Caleb Edwards, both linebackers, and lineman Nelson White to anchor the defense.
Plenty of talent
Returning starters Chett Currie (receiver), Jake Heintz (receiver), Justin Griffin (offensive lineman), Christian Cannon (linebacker), Cody Crowell (defensive end) and Jake Nolan (CB) will try to help Mount Pleasant (3-8, 2-5) turn things around.
Central Cabarrus (0-11, 0-7) will not have much depth but it does have 14 returning starters including Aaron Johnson (receiver), Jarod Garrick (RB/DB) and Jordan Pridgen (OL/LB). Cox Mill (1-10, 1-6) returns most of its starters from last year's inaugural team.
North Piedmont 3A
In the North Piedmont 3A Conference, China Grove Carson and South Rowan will try to topple two-time defending state champions West Rowan. All-conference cornerback Mark McDaniel will fill a void in South Rowan's (9-3, 5-1) depleted offensive backfield.
Carson (7-6, 3-3) quarterback Zack Gragg has the luxury of either handing off to 2,000-yard rusher Shaun Warren or passing to 1,000-yard receiver Cody Clanton. All-conference Jacorian Brown and fellow linebacker Chris Barnhardt lead the defense.
First Assembly (13-0, 6-0) will try to defend its Division II private/independent schools state championship but has only four returning starters. Linemen Caleb Sheffield and Christian Little are back on offense, and linebacker Easton Spraybury and cornerback Tyler Rhyne will steady the defense.
Transfers Andrew Goodman (quarterback, Mallard Creek) and Jeremiah Walker (running back, Northwest Cabarrus) should make an immediate impact.
Cannon School will play its first varsity season with all 22 starters returning from last year's 6-1 junior varsity team. Quarterback Justin Redfern and Mason McClanahan are key returning players. The only Cougars with varsity experience are Concord transfers Wesley Scott (DE) and Jason Willix (RB/DB).