Lake Norman & Mooresville

Football preview: Wildcats, Blue Devils take new directions with new coaches

Lake Norman's and Mooresville's football teams don't like each other very much.

On the field, the Wildcats and Blue Devils not only compete for local bragging rights, but also for the I-Meck Conference title.

Off the field, the Wildcats and Blue Devils have had a lot in common this offseason as both teams hired new head coaches to lead their respective programs on the gridiron.

Lake Norman didn't make a drastic change, as the Wildcats' replaced Scott Sherrill, who resigned, with longtime assistant and defensive coordinator Rob McNeely.

Meanwhile, Mooresville cleaned house, replacing most of its staff with its third head coach in three years, in former Western Alamance coach Hal Capps.

But while both schools made changes at the top of their programs, Lake Norman and Mooresville enter the 2010 season from very different directions.

Lake Norman won a school-record eight games last season and went to 4A state playoffs in their first year in the top classification. Meanwhile, Mooresville struggled mightily, going 0-11 under first-year coach Steve McCurry.

So with two new coaches and dozens of new player on each team...

Lake Norman

After winning only five games combined from 2005 to 2007, Lake Norman has won 15 contests in the last two seasons, advancing to the playoffs both seasons.

This year, McNeely will take the enormous challenge of building on that success with only five starters back from last season's team.

"What we've done here the past two years has really turned out football around," said McNeely.

"A lot of our guys now expect to win. We need to keep that going."

McNeely will start with his defense this year led by senior middle linebacker, Connor Donahue. Donahue, who had 100 tackles a year ago, will be counted on to be the "coach on the field" of a defense that only allowed 10 points per game last year.

Donahue will depend on senior defensive end Connor Burk (6-6, 200) and cornerback Drew McNeil (5-11, 175) for leadership at both of their positions.

On the offensive side of the ball, Lake Norman will be even less experienced, but still dangerous.

Multi-dimensional threat Austin Eisenhofer will spend time at quarterback, running back and wide receiver in order to get in him the ball as much as possible. Fellow senior Zeke Clark will also line up at more than one position at either running back or wideout, to maximize his touches.

Clark and Eisenhofer, who will operate in the "Pistol, spread formation," once again this year, will need to find blockers as the Wildcats' top six offensive lineman were lost to graduation.

Mooresville

While Lake Norman tries to build on its recent success, Mooresville finally appears to have a coach with a more long-term plan.

Hal Capps - who has guided his teams at Western Alamance to 15 straight winning seasons, including four state finals appearances - is focused on building the program from the ground up.

"We won't talk a lot about expectations in terms of win and losses," said Capps. "We want to put a team out on the field that plays hard all the time.

While Capps develops his team, he does have some talent to lean on as 6-foot-4, 200-pound senior quarterback Patrick O'Brien is back to lead the way. O'Brien impressed a lot of people with his arm last year, throwing for 1,800 yards and 17 touchdowns.

O'Brien will have a lot of help in the spread offense from a talented receiving corps that includes Blue Devil basketball stars Shawn Lester and Kyle Haslett, as well as track star Cody Locklear.

The Blue Devil offensive line should also be solid with Josh Holbrooks, Zach Brown and Ernie Ruffin leading the charge.

Mooresville's defense could be another story altogether as the unit is very young and will play an odd-man 3-4 front. Safety Tyler Threatt will be the leader of the group.

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