Coach Larry McNulty has built a powerhouse football program at Charlotte Latin. The Hawks have been in the state championship game every year since 2003, winning five titles in that time.
After a 45-17 loss in the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association Division I championship to Charlotte Country Day last year, things look very different at Latin this fall.
"We've been on a hell of a roll," said McNulty, who has been coaching at Charlotte Latin for 26 years. "For what, eight years we've been in the state title game, and I think this year ... I guess you'd have to call it rebuilding."
The Hawks (9-3, 2-1 CISAA) lost all their offensive players from last year, including quarterback Sam Spence, running backs Jalen Ross and Thomas Armstrong, tight end Colton Walls (Clemson) and receiver Tyler Miess. Michael Massardo, a junior receiver last year, decided to sit out this season to focus on baseball after committing to North Carolina.
"We realize where we're at and we've got a lot of inexperience, but hard work works," said McNulty.
Senior Grayson Foster likely will be the quarterback opening week, but he is competing with junior Jacob Nabatoff.
The strength on the offense should be the running game, said McNulty, with two big, strong seniors in Spencer Ball (6-foot-1, 210 pounds) and Brian Mittl (6-foot, 185 pounds) in the backfield.
"Last year, Jalen Ross was a really good running back but he was really small, and blocking wasn't one of his strengths, where now I can go right or left almost any time I want because of the blocking ability of my backs," said McNulty.
The only three returning starters on offense are on the line, with junior center Sam Wilson (6-foot-3, 225 pounds) and senior guards Hadley Wilson (6-foot-1, 190) and Will Almquist (5-foot-9, 195).
One problem on both sides for Latin is size. "This is probably the smallest team I've ever had at Latin," said McNulty. "I've got like one guy on each side of the ball over 200 pounds. We're really small."
The Hawks are also thin on the depth chart. A couple injuries could deplete the team, said McNulty, and for the first time since he's been coaching at Latin, McNulty plans to start two freshman this year: wide receiver/defensive back Carson Song and running back/defensive back Denzel Pearson.
The lack of depth also means a lot of players will be going both ways Fridays. The linebacker corps, which McNulty called the strength of the defense, includes Ball, Mittl and Almquist, who all got significant playing time last year.
Foster played corner last year, but won't see much playing time there this year if he starts at quarterback. Senior Marshall Burlingame likely will see time at receiver, too.
With so much inexperience, the kicking game could be important. Latin returns senior kicker and punter Paul Griggs, who recently committed to Purdue.
"We've got the best kicker I've ever coached in Paul Griggs," said McNulty. "He gives us a potential weapon any time the ball passes the 40 yard line. We ought to be kicking a field goal if it's fourth down."
McNulty said he likes this group of players, especially the senior leadership.
"We try to live by the philosophy that hard work works, and the harder we're coaching, the harder the kids are practicing, good things will eventually happen. It just may take us a while," he said.