Lake Norman & Mooresville

Titans strive to be competitive this season

A year after finishing 6-6 and finishing third in the I-Meck, Hopewell is looking to be one of the I-Meck's top teams.

The Titans lost a lot of experience, only returning four starters on each side of the ball after losing about 20 seniors to graduation.

But Hopewell has eight role players who saw playing time last season who will need to step up and fill in the gaps.

"We basically have seven or eight players coming back on each side of the ball," said Titans' head coach Chris Rust.

The Titans coach said that's why it's important to give all the players on his roster time on the playing field - to always have players with varsity experience.

"Each year you lose some and then there's always injuries too, so you have to have some kids ready to come in," said Rust. "If they're on the team, we expect them to be playing somewhere out there."

One of the players who didn't start but has plenty of varsity experience is quarterback Cole Blythe, who will be in charge of leading the Titan variable offense after splitting time with Justin Avery last season.

Blythe threw for 722 yards and seven touchdowns last year.

Rust said his QB has looked good this offseason.

"He's really taken control of the offense," he said. "His leadership has been big."

Blythe will have some help from all-conference running back Dondre Lewis-Freeman, who rushed for 1,218 yards and 17 touchdowns last season.

Tailback Denzel Heath, who will also see some time at linebacker, will aim to complement Lewis-Freeman.

"They'll be our one-two punch," said Rust. "If you stop one, then the other one will hurt you."

The offensive line, led by Kevin Auten and East Meck transfer Tevin Stevenson, should give Blythe time to throw the football.

Rust said senior wide receivers Jason Williams and Leroy Jackson could have big years with the way Blythe has been throwing this summer.

On the defensive side, senior Givonne Evans will lead the defensive line with the help of Jackson. Rust said Nick Watson, a Hopewell wrestler, has been a nice addition to the line.

The Titans' linebackers should also be strong with Heath, Hunter Dalton and Ryan Travis.

The Titans' secondary should be one of the team's strongholds, with strong safety Michael Russell, cornerback Anthony Bynum and free safety Spencer Jones.

Bynum, who is a track star at the 100 and 200 meters, should be a big defensive presence because of his speed.

Bynum, as well as Lewis-Freeman and Heath, will be in charge of returns.

Rust's son, Ben, is back at long snapper, but Hopewell lost their kicker, Michael Haffner.

Rust is excited for the season and the mentality his team has.

"They're trying to be the team that can win the conference," said Rust. "They've really worked hard during the offseason."