The Butler Bulldogs will not have the luxury of easing into their next era. There have been several changes on the field and one big one on the sidelines.
Butler kicks off the season Aug. 19 in a possible preview of the state championship game against Mallard Creek, a team that finished 13-1 last year and is picked by Maxpreps.com to finish first in the state.
The Bulldogs were 16-0 last year and have won each of the past two state titles and 31 straight games overall. They return nine starters on offense but lost their top two running backs, one of the top defensive players in the country, five of the top six tacklers and a standout punter.
On top of those losses, 2009 national high school football Coach of the Year Mike Newsome has left after nine seasons to take the head job at Kannapolis A.L. Brown.
New head coach Brian Hales takes over after serving as offensive coordinator and offensive line coach the past three years. He compiled a 60-9 record as the Bulldogs JV coach for seven seasons before that.
Despite losing Newsome, the Bulldogs staff has experience and remains otherwise intact, which should help Hales.
Steve Shaughnessy, a former head coach at South Meck and Providence Day, returns as defense coordinator. Wide receivers coach Mark Sanders and linebackers coach Chris Pierce also return and are joined by new defensive line coach Jim Hambacher, a former head coach at West Meck.
Quarterback Riley Ferguson is back for his junior year. Last season he threw for more than 2,900 yards and 24 touchdowns. Ferguson has been offered scholarships to Michigan, LSU, Virginia Tech and Clemson.
Despite losing halfback Jahwan Edwards, the MVP of the last two state final games who accounted for 1,652 yards rushing and 33 touchdowns last season, and second-leading rusher Deion Walker, there is plenty of talent left on offense.
Leading receiver senior Zach Ferguson, Riley's brother, finished with more than 700 yards. Junior receiver/halfback Uriah LeMay had more than 300 rushing yards and 600 receiving yards and scored 12 touchdowns. Lemay is drawing interest from Virginia Tech, UCLA, Georgia, Florida State, Clemson and Auburn.
While the offense should be explosive, the defense lacks experience as only three starters return.
Junior linebacker Peter Kalambayi was the third leading tackler from last season and will be joined by senior linebacker Mal Jenkins.
The Bulldogs are young in spots but have talent at every position, and with a veteran coaching staff to assist Hales the Bulldogs are the favorites to win a third consecutive state title.