Mallard Creek’s football team has been drawing lots of attention heading into the 2013 season, with three nationally-recognized websites ranking it among the nation’s top 25 teams.
That has Mavericks quarterback Emiere Scaife asking one question: “Why?”
“We have yet to win a state championship, to make us one of those teams that really deserves that,” Scaife added. “We’re a good team; we beat the people that we play. But when it comes down to it, we’ve got to learn how to finish. We’ve got to fight for that last one. That’s really going to make us deserve that national recognition.”
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That’s the goal Mallard Creek has set for itself this season – winning its first N.C. High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA) 4A state championship – and will do so in the center of a national spotlight.
The Mavericks (12-2 last year) enters the new season ranked 20th in the nation by PrepNation.com, No. 21 by Rivals.com and 24th in MaxPreps.com’s composite rankings, which combines the results from four national polls (PrepNation.com, Rivals.com, USA Today and MaxPreps.com’s Xcellent 25). USA Today also has Mallard Creek ranked just outside its Top 25 (31st).
Throw in the state preseason polls, where the Mavericks sit at No. 1 in NCPreps.com’s 4A rankings and the Observer’s own Sweet 16 rankings, and it becomes obvious Mallard Creek is considered a serious contender for a state title.
“Any coach that says he doesn’t like being ranked in the top 25 is probably lying to you,” Mavericks head coach Mike Palmieri said. “People are seeing all the hard work that you’re putting in.
“But we’ve been ranked in the top 25 before, and No. 1 in the state before. We want to make sure we finish No. 1 in the state at the end of the year, and in the top 25 (nationally) at the end of the year.”
Mallard Creek has come close to the state title the last two years, losing in the NCHSAA 4AA semifinals to the eventual state champion – to Greensboro Page in 2011, and last year to Butler.
Getting over that playoff hump is vital for the Mavericks, especially with the added spotlight brought on by the national rankings.
“We’ve got to win the big one now,” said defensive back Cameron Mattison, one of nine NCAA Division I prospects on Mallard Creek’s roster. “We’re nationally ranked, so we’ve got to win that state championship now.”
However, there are good reasons for the Mavericks drawing so much attention. They have an experienced lineup – 40 lettermen, including 16 starters – back from 2012’s team.
There’s also the quality of Mallard Creek’s returning players. In addition to Mattison, who has committed to Toledo, three other players – Scaife (Appalachian State), tight end Jaylen Samuels (N.C. State) and defensive lineman Ikeem Allen (Ball State) – are all early commits, and others are drawing interest from the likes of Alabama, Indiana, Missouri, Marshall and Wake Forest.
“There’s no one star player; we’ve got a lot of weapons on offense and the d-side (defense),” Samuels said. “We’re getting them working together as a unit.”
Before the Mavericks can think about state titles and rankings, they’ve got to first survive a tough regular-season schedule, both against non-conference teams and within their own new MECKA 4A.
Mallard Creek opened on the road against former South Carolina 2A state champ Dillon – a 2 1/2-hour bus ride – then follows with nonconference games against Butler at home on Aug. 30, and road games at Phillip O. Berry Sept. 6 and Charlotte Catholic Sept. 13.
Then there’s the MECKA 4A, which will throw two new teams (longtime state power Kannapolis Brown and J.M. Robinson, both moving up a class) into a mix that also has many of the Mavericks’ opponents from the old I-Meck 4A: Hopewell, Hough, North Mecklenburg, Vance and West Charlotte.
“We know every time we take the field, teams are gunning for us,” Palmieri said. “That’s what we want. We want everybody’s ‘A game’ when we play them. That motivates us during the week in practice.
“We’ve played in some big, big atmosphere games, but that’s what we want for our program. We want to play the best, we want to put our kids in the best position, and we want to put center stage. It’s been working for us.”
Mallard Creek has won four consecutive I-Meck 4A regular-season titles, and has not lost a conference game since the 2008 season, a streak that’s now at 27 games.
Continuing that would be nice, Palmieri said, but there’s still the Mavericks’ overall goal.
“Last year, we learned some hard lessons,” Palmieri said. “That’s part of growing. But this team has a lot of experience, just as much as anybody out there, and can get the job done.
“We’re confident that we can win a state championship this year, we’ve just got to prove it on the field.”