University City

Despite some changes, Mavericks look strong

Mallard Creek has been practicing for months as it gets ready to kick off the 2012 football season.

The Mavericks open with a Charlotte-area showdown Aug. 19 against perennial powerhouse Butler High.

After one of the area's best players - UNC signee Marquise Williams, their quarterback and leader of one of the most explosive offenses in the state - graduated, the Mavericks enter the season with some questions but still are extremely talented on both sides of the ball.

The last game the Mavericks played that counted was a 10-7 loss to rival Vance. The two teams will have to wait until the end of September to go at it again, but that will be a game each team looks forward to.

Last year, apart from the season-ending loss to the Cougars, the 10-1 Mavericks rarely were tested on the field and outscored opponents 908-117. In six shutout wins, they scored 390 points to opponents' 0.

This year, the Mavericks return tons of talent and seem to have reworked their offense for another great year.

Offensive tackle D.J. Humphries was named the No. 3 prospect in the nation by and is listed in almost every major publication's top 20. Humphries will leave opposing coaches scrambling for ways to stop him.

Running back Jela Duncan will benefit from the huge holes Humphries and the experienced offensive line creates, and defensive back Brian Walker already has an offer from Auburn and interest from many other major college programs.

Maverick head coach Mike Palmieri is working with a new quarterback, Aaron Harbison. The new offense was on display at the Carolina Panthers' annual 7-on-7 passing tournament, and looked in mid-season form.

The round-robin tournament allows for no running plays and only used five players eligible on any given play. The games were held to 25 minutes, but the Mavericks showed they are still one of the better teams in the area.

They entered as the third seed in the tournament but ended it as champions and the Panthers' representative for the national tournament, held earlier this month.

"The kids get to compete against the best competition in South Carolina and North Carolina. They love the competition and they stepped up," Palmieri said after the event. "This is just great for team-building and for confidence the rest of the summer."

The Mavericks again will be one of the most explosive offenses around and have a defense capable of shutting out most opponents. They are the preseason favorite to win the I-Meck 4A and should contend for a state title.

A lot will depend on the season-opener against Butler. The key will be how well Harbison and the offense gels, but with possibly the best lineman in the country in Humphries, Harbison should have plenty of time to throw the ball.