The Catawba Valley Athletic Conference has long established itself as one of the top 2A leagues in the state.
Perennial powers Newton-Conover, Maiden and Bandys have carried the torch, while Bunker Hill and West Caldwell also serving as mainstays.
When East Burke, South Iredell and Draughn joined the conference in 2009, the landscape of the conference began to change.
Newton-Conover has been the consistent team at the top as of late, going 39-4 overall and 20-3 in CVAC play in the last three years with two appearances in the 2A state championship game, winning it in 2008 and finishing as runners-up in 2009.
But last year, South Iredell stole the show.
Newton-Conover hopes to take the conference's reign back, but it won't be easy with only four starters returning.
Senior back Jervasse Herrin, the lone returning starter in the backfield, leads a fast and capable group with junior Marquis Pope, sophomore Thomas Corpening and newcomer Chekeen Hickman hoping to make a splash.
Junior Kevin Cline, who is in his first year on varsity, will be the starting quarterback and trigger man in the vaunted Red Devil triple option attack.
Newton-Conover's defense will only have one starter back in Herrin, but coach Nick Bazzle expects it to be solid with players like nose guard Xavier Stewart stepping up.
"We're going to go through a lot of growing pains," said Bazzle. "But our kids believe in what we do and I think we will a tough team to beat."
Maiden should also be a contender for the CVAC title returning the reigning conference player of the year, senior quarterback Matt Johnson, to lead coach Brian Brown's potent offense.
Johnson will look to Will Jenkins and Jose Campos, who both play running back and wide receiver, often.
The Blue Devils also have an experienced defense with the linebacker corps of Richard Kerekes, Dillon Painter and Landon Prater leading the way.
Maiden (8-4, 5-2 last year) is looking to make the climb to the top in 2011.
"Our goal is to win the conference every year and I think we have a good chance this year," said Brown. "We just have to be a little better to win those big games that we couldn't win last year."
Another team on the rise is Bunker Hill, who finished fourth in the CVAC and made the playoffs under first-year coach Travis Conner last year.
The Bears will focus on their single-wing, spread offense that produced more than 4,400 yards on the ground in 2010. Reggie Davis (1,779 yards rushing, 18 touchdowns last year) and Justin Lynch (1,126 yards rushing, 13 touchdowns last year) are back to lead the charge.
Junior linebacker Lashawn Redmond and sophomore defensive backs Jordan Eckard and Ryan Huffman will anchor the defensive unit.
Bandys, the 2009 CVAC champions, and 25-year veteran Randy Lowman are always a factor in the CVAC, but slipped to 3-8 (1-6 in conference play) last year, but don't expect them to stay down.
The Trojans have a lot of talent returning including quarterback David Barrow, all-conference running back Dominique Young and fullback Jackson Gilliam to lead an offense that had flashes of greatness in 2010.
All-CVAC offensive/defensive lineman Dylan Shook will lead a Bandys' defense that must prove it can stop opponents to get back to the top half of the league standings.
West Caldwell is also a team in the middle of the pack in the SPC last year (4-7, 3-4) that is trying to fight their way to the upper echelon of the league.
The Warriors and coach Jay Baldwin have talent in their All-CVAC quarterback, senior Ryan Corpening, who has the speed and skill to run and pass with the area's best.
Meanwhile, Cody Pritchard will help stabilize both the offensive and defensive lines for the Warriors.
Draughn could be the most difficult team to predict, as the Wildcats enter their third season as a varsity team with their first big senior class to lean on.
Coach Scott Lambert expects big things from senior quarterback Keith Loomis and two-way standout Jordan Moore, who plays both running back and strong safety.
At East Burke, coach Jim Ruark begins year two of his tenure after enduring a tough 0-11 season. The Cavaliers after redistricting forced them to transition from class 4A to 2A and into the CVAC in the last few years.
But Ruark and his team have reason for optimism with a solid roster coming back. Matt Childers, a 6-foot-7 junior quarterback, will be a huge key with fullback Robbie McGee, who rushed for more than 900 yards in 2010, and Abraham Lizarraga as his main playmakers.
McGee will also be the focal point on defense from linebacker spot.