Mike Newsome has gotten his taste of Kannapolis hometown football without having coached a game as head of A.L. Brown's program.
In May, Newsome was hired to replace Ron Massey, who retired, and to become just the third Wonders coach since 1988.
Since his hiring, Newsome has visited Plummer's Perch (the lofted deck in the backyard of a home beside Brown's stadium), heard listeners debate the importance of the Kannapolis-Concord football rivalry on Charlotte sports radio, and seen 50 to 60 people in the Memorial Stadium bleachers just to watch his players run summer sprints.
"With the support the town gives, that's what coaches want, that undying support," said Newsome, who was head coach for eight years at Matthews Butler, where the Bulldogs won the past two 4AA state championships.
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Support from the players has been overwhelming, too. During the first official week of preseason practice, the varsity and junior varsity teams were dressing more than 70 players each.
A.L. Brown graduate and current Appalachian State assistant football coach Mark Speir first encouraged Newsome to look into the Kannapolis coaching job. Citing Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools' recent decision to drop financial support of middle school athletics, Newsome thought it might be time to entertain other coaching possibilities.
Each of Newsome's two recent predecessors - Massey and Bruce Hardin - stayed on as the Wonders coach until after his children graduated from A.L. Brown. If Newsome follows suit, he'll be in Kannapolis for at least the next 18 years.
His wife is due with their first child in January.
Brown will open the 2011 season on Friday when it hosts Shelby at 7:30 p.m. The Wonders (12-2 overall, 7-0 in the South Piedmont 3A Conference in 2010) are likely to contend for their fifth straight conference championship.
Much of Brown's success will depend on senior Damien Washington, a gifted athlete who will play all the offensive skill positions while other players battle for playing time at quarterback and running back.
Senior Hunter Morris is one of the best long snappers in the state and was invited to the Shrine Bowl combine.
Seniors Jericho Rivers, Gerald Holt and Darius Rice make up a sizable line that makes the defense one of the best in the conference.
The secondary is led by senior Kaleel Hollis and sophomore J.P. Lott, the latest in a long family succession of Brown defensive backs over the years.
The South Piedmont
Concord (9-5, 5-2) is always expected to compete for a league title, but it will have to do so with only four returning starters.
The Spiders need to find help for junior quarterback B.J. Beecher (2,603 yards, 36 touchdowns in 2010), senior tight end Terrance Knox (9 TDs), senior defensive lineman Hunter White and junior defensive back Jerrick Grier.
With 21 seniors, many of whom are third-year varsity players, Concord Cox Mill (6-6, 4-3) might move into the role of a title contender. QB Arrick Hincher, wide receiver Parker Kenney, center Matt Tucker, offensive tackle Matt Jean-Giles, DB Ike Washington, DT Chris Blakeney and defensive end Tristian Green will all start for the third straight season.
With the return of senior QB Colby Williford, RBs John Edmond and Jalen Caldwell - who combined for 1,200 rushing yards and 16 TDs - and receivers E.J. Rhinehart and Will England, Northwest Cabarrus (7-6, 4-3) should have more offensive consistency. Senior kicker/punter Bradley Pinion is one of the best in the nation, and Edmond and England are all-conference DBs.
Middle linebacker Deon Pilsbury and DE Dezmond Leach, both seniors, will help Mount Pleasant's (5-8, 2-5) defense switch to a 3-4 scheme. In Ace Troutman and Junior Gonzalez, the Tigers have both leading rushers returning. Junior Andy Hunt leads a deep receiving corps.
Harrisburg Hickory Ridge, Concord Robinson and Central Cabarrus all have issues with a lack of senior direction.
Junior Nick Tyson becomes Hickory Ridge's (5-7, 4-3) quarterback, while senior Jason Eury moves back to more natural position of receiver. They will try to put points up for a Ragin' Bulls team that has just 10 seniors. Led by senior safeties Otis Robinson and Garrett Wells, the defense has three returning starters.
Free safety Teon Boulware, DE Dwayne Foggie, LB Jonathan Brewer, and OT Brendan Byrnes are among Robinson's (4-7, 2-5) 12 seniors. Coach Bobby Cloninger thinks they could all be all-conference players, as could juniors Michael Steinbacher (LB) and Darien Williams (RB).
At Central Cabarrus (0-11, 0-7) sophomore QB Hasaan Klugh, junior WR Jamaal Klugh and RBs Emory Rice (senior) and Andre St. John (junior) provide depth at the skill positions. Senior Johnny Moore and junior Josh Furr are among the linemen that may have to play both ways.
Carson (10-3, 4-2) has become a fixture at the top of the North Piedmont 3A Conference and has 13 starters returning. Junior RB Travis Abbitt rushed for more than 500 yards as a backup last year, and senior linebacker T.J. Smith had more than 100 tackles in an all-conference season.
South Rowan (2-9, 1-5) is heavy with talented juniors, including OL Clint Meece, QB Nathan Lambert, RB Ricky Sherrill and TE Josh Medlin. LB Bubba McLauglin, DT Zach Stirewalt, strong safety Drew Glenn and DTs Devin Mason and Josh Medlin will lead the defense. WRs Brandon Williams and Logan Beck are at the head of a small senior class.
First Assembly (10-2), the two-time defending state champion of independent schools Division II, has a new coach in Mike Dunn. All-state senior LB Easton Sprabary leads the defense, and junior Allen Calvert and senior Dante Simmons are in a battle to start at quarterback. Senior Fred Bates is a multitalented skill-position player.
Four-year starters Justin Redfern (QB) and Mason McClanahan (RB) are two of Cannon School (5-4) football's first true senior class. The duo were the Cougars' top two rushers in the team's first varsity season in 2010. Senior DB Jason Willix and junior safety John-Morgan Wilson lead the defense, and junior kicker/punter Blake Brewer is one of the best in the nation.