High School Sports

FALL EXCLUSIVE: Observer high school football previews for Mecklenburg, surrounding counties

Harding coach Sam Greiner thinks his team can challenge for a conference championship in 2017
Harding coach Sam Greiner thinks his team can challenge for a conference championship in 2017 dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Here are 2017 preseason Mecklenburg County high school football team-by-team previews (scroll down), as compiled by Charlotte Observer correspondent Jay Edwards

PREVIEW LINKS

Preseason All-State Team Released

Harding High RB ranked No. 1 in the nation

2017 high school football schedules

2x time players transfers from one Meck Co school to a rival

TEAM BY TEAM PREVIEWS

Mecklenburg County previews

Alexander, Anson, Ashe, Avery, Richmond, Watauga Previews

Burke County previews

Cabarrus County previews

Caldwell County previews

Catawba County previews

Chester County (SC) Previews

Chesterfield County (SC) Previews

Cleveland County Previews

Gaston County Previews

Iredell County Previews

Lancaster (SC) County Previews

Lincoln County Previews

Rowan County Previews

Rutherford County previews

Stanly County previews

Union County previews

York County previews

MECKLENBURG COUNTY PREVIEWS

ARDREY KELL

ARDREY KELL

Head Coach: Kyle Brey (1st year as Ardrey Kell football coach).

2016 Record (Conference): 6-6 (4-3 in SoMeck8 conference).

2017 Conference: SoMeck7 conference

Returning Starters: 10

Returning Lettermen: 30

Key Returning Starters: Luke Hefferly, Sr., QB (6-4, 190); Connor Leonard, Sr., C (6-0, 205); Grant Pease, Sr., OT (6-4, 235); Tristan Robinson, Sr., OT (6-4, 240); David Owens, Sr., DE/LB (6-2, 230); Shamari Wingard, Sr., DB (6-1, 175); John Fierick, Sr., LB (6-0, 215); Nicco Crew, Sr., RB (6-0, 185); Logan Williams, Sr. DB (6-0, 185); Kyle Coleman, Sr., DB (5-7, 160); Gabe Jeudy, Jr., DB (6-1, 160); Patrick Seery, Sr., DB (5-9, 165); Robert Chetty, Sr., G (5-8, 210).

Key Newcomers: J.J. Skinner, Sr., ATH (5-9, 160); Anthony Carter, Sr., RB (5-9, 185); Caleb Stephens, So., LB (5-9, 190); Cedric Gray, So. WR (6-1, 175); Will Sutton, Jr., LB (6-1, 210); Adam Szabo, So., OL (5-10, 205); Carson McCoy, Jr., DL (6-1, 210); TreSean Hallums, So., DB/LB (6-0, 175); Trevor Collins, Jr., DL (6-1, 185); Nick Actis, So., DL (6-4, 250).

Outlook: First-year, Ardrey Kell coach, Kyle Brey, has plenty of experience back to have a successful season, led by senior QB Luke Hefferly (2,158 yards, 24 touchdown passes) but will have to earn every bit of it with one of the toughest schedules in the state in the first seven games with trips to Weddington, Charlotte Catholic and Providence, while hosting Myers Park, Marvin Ridge, Hough and West Mecklenburg. If the Knights survive that stretch with a solid record, they will not only be a SoMeck7 contender but also be battle-tested to make a playoff run.

--JAY EDWARDS

BERRY

Head Coach: Travis Witherspoon (2nd year as Berry Academy football coach).

2016 Record (Conference): 1-10 (0-8 in the SoMeck8 conference).

2017 Conference: SoMeck7 conference

Returning Starters: 12

Returning Lettermen: 30

Key Returning Starters: Randy White, Sr., WR (6-2, 175); Cardia Carroll, Sr., LB (5-10, 205);

Kamran Moster, Sr., LT (6-5, 230); Martinique Hart, Sr., FS (5-11, 175); David Hernandez, Jr., QB (6-0, 165); Keon Banks, Sr., DE (6-1, 180); Bryson Daughtry, Sr., WR (6-2, 170).

Key Newcomers: Delmar Glaze, So., OT (6-3, 240); Soloman Sutton, So., OLB/RB (5-10, 190); Chris Bryant, Sr., OT (6-3, 260).

Outlook: First-year Berry coach, Travis Witherspoon and his Cardinal team took their lumps last season, going 1-10, including 0-8 in SoMeck7 conference play, averaging only 10 points per game. While Berry hasn’t had a winning season since 2011, they do have 12 starters back with seniors, WR Randy White, LT Kamran Moser and DE Keon Banks, hoping to help the team climb back the SoMeck7 standings and compete for a postseason berth.

--JAY EDWARDS

BUTLER

Head Coach: Brian Hales (7th Year as Butler head football coach) (67-13 at Butler)

2016 Record (Conference): 12-2, 6-0 in Southwestern 4A (SW4A)

2017 Conference: Southwestern 4A

Returning Starters: 8

Returning Lettermen: 15

Key Returning Starters: Nijere Peoples, Sr. RB (5-11, 210); Keyon Lesane, Jr., WR; Daniel Hickman, Sr., CB (6-1, 175); Cam Taylor, Sr., OL (6-1, 305); T.J. Cusick, Sr., DB (5-11, 180); Kaleb Simmons, Sr., LB (6-0, 235); Johnny Connor, Sr., DL (6-0, 325); Amaziah Bell, Jr., DL (6-0, 320).

Key Newcomers: Jamal Worthy, So., RB/LB (6-1, 215); Quasean Holmes, So., LB/DB (5-10, 190); Christian Peters, Jr., QB (6-2, 170); Anthony Carter, So., OL (6-3, 240); Kinson Bridgers, Sr., DB (5-10, 190); Tre Richburg, So. OL (6-3/235); Onerian Olive, Jr., DB (5-9, 175);

Outlook: Butler has been the class of the SW4A conference and one of the best teams in the state for more than a decade. Despite losing 27 seniors, Coach Brian Hales has proven he can reload quickly and will look to do so again with seniors, RB, Nijere Peoples (1,351 yards rushing and 28 touchdowns last year), OT Cam Taylor and LB Kaleb Simmons, leading a team without a lot of young talent also looking to have breakout seasons. No one will be surprised to see Butler win another conference title and be a 4A state contender, again.

--JAY EDWARDS

CAROLINA PRIDE

Head Coach: Mike Hawks (2nd year as Carolina Pride football coach).

2016 Record (Conference): 3-8 (Independent).

2017 Conference: Independent.

Returning Starters: 7 (4 offense; 3 defense).

Returning Lettermen: 9

Key Returning Starters: Toris Saifele, Sr., WR/LB (6-1, 195); Thomas Theirfelder, Sr., WR/DB (6-2, 185); Cole Emerick, Sr., FB/TE/LB (6-0, 180); Nate Robinson, Jr., RB/DB (5-11, 175); Juan Lopez, Jr., OL/DL (5-10, 225).

Key Newcomers: Nathan Friesz, Jr., FB/LB (5-10, 170); Luke Theirfelder, Jr., QB (6-0, 155); Brandon Fleming, Jr., RB/LB (6-0, 170).

Outlook: After four straight winning seasons (2011-14), the Pride has posted back-to-back three-win campaigns (2015, 2016). With only seven starters back, another young team and a touch schedule, having a winning season.

--JAY EDWARDS

CHARLOTTE CATHOLIC

Head Coach: Mike Brodowicz (4th year as Charlotte Catholic football coach/45-4 at Charlotte Catholic).

2016 Record (Conference): 13-2 (7-0 in the SoMeck8 conference).

2017 Conference: Southern Carolinas’ conference (SCC).

Returning Starters: 11 (6 offense; 5 defense).

Returning Lettermen: 32

Key Returning Starters: Milan Howard, Sr., RB (5-11, 186); Chase Foley, Sr., LB (6-1, 216); Malik McGovern, So., OT (6-4, 320); Ari Rodriguez, Jr., DT (6-0, 274); Michael Neel, Jr., RB (5-10, 177); Brian Jacobs, Jr., SS (5-8, 145); Adam Robbe, Sr., FS (6-1, 188).

Key Newcomers: Davis Hodgens, So., G (5-8, 272); Lamagea McDowell, So., RB (6-1, 226); Jackson Cure, Sr., QB (6-0, 200); Chris Walton, Jr., QB (6-1, 165).

Outlook: The names and faces change, but the end results stay the same at Charlotte Catholic as the Cougars are 45-4 in last three years under Coach Mike Brodowicz. While Catholic takes on a new challenge in the Union County-heavy, 3A Southern Carolinas’ conference -- they have plenty of firepower on both sides of the ball with RB’s Milan Howard (1,080 yards rushing, 12 touchdowns) and Michael Neel on offense and LB’s Chase Foley (155 tackles), SS Brian Jacobs (135 tackles) and DT Ari Rodriguez (four sacks, 64 tackles) on defense – to be the favorite to win the conference and make a run at 3A state title.

--JAY EDWARDS

CHARLOTTE CHRISTIAN

Head Coach: Jason Estep (11th year as Charlotte Christian head coach, 89-29)

2016 Record (Conference): 10-2 (2-1 in CISAA)

2017 Conference: CISAA (NCISAA Division I)

Returning Starters: 18 (10 offense; 8 defense)

Returning Lettermen: 35

Key Returning Starters: Justus Woods, Sr., (6-2, 210); Garrett Shrader, Jr., QB (6-5, 210); Terrelle Brown, Sr., WR (6-0, 175); Josh Eboboko, Jr., ATH (5-10, 180); Ricky Kofoed, Jr., TE/DE (6-4, 215); J.T. Killen, Jr., TE/LB (6-4/215); Obi Egbuna, Jr., WR/DB (6-0, 175); Ben Williams, Jr., RB/DB (FILL); Jack Mitchell, Sr., OL (6-4, 260); Luke Warner, Sr., OL (6-4, 260); Ben Duyck, Sr., OL (6-2, 270); Sammy Henderson, Jr., OL (6-5, 270); J.B. Awolowo, So., ATH (5-10, 170).

Key Newcomers: Jeremiah Gray, Jr., WR/FS (6-2, 200); Bryan Rogers, Sr., OL/DL (6-6, 315).

Outlook: When a 10-win, NCISAA Division I state runner-up finish (lost 28-27 to Charlotte Latin) feels like a disappointing season, you know how good your program has become. Knights’ coach Jason Estep’s 2017 team is loaded with size, speed and talent again -- led by junior QB, Garrett Shrader (2,564 yards passing, 29 touchdown passes), senior RB, Justus Woods (Stanford commit, 907 yards rushing, 293 yards receiving, 18 total touchdowns -- on a team that also has the experience (18 starters back) to get back championship form (won 2012, 2013, 2014, NCISAA Div. I state titles) and win it all, again this season.

--JAY EDWARDS

CHARLOTTE COUNTRY DAY

Head Coach: Drew Witman (3rd year as Charlotte Country Day football coach/7-15).

2016 Record (Conference): 4-7 (1-3 in the CISAA)

2017 Conference: CISAA/NCISAA Division I

Returning Starters: 11

Returning Lettermen: 29

Key Returning Starters: Broadhus Roberson, Sr., WR/DB (6-3, 195); Connor Fewin, Sr., LB/HB; Tim Newman, So., RB (5-9, 180); Triston Miller, Jr., OL/DL (6-5, 255); Twan Flip, Jr., WR/DB/KR/PR (5-6, 145); Rylan McLaurin, Jr., DB/RB (5-7, 145); DeAngelo Epps, Jr., WR (6-4, 205).

Key Newcomers: N/A.

Outlook: Coach Drew Witman and his first two, Charlotte Country Day football teams have taken their lumps with just seven wins over the past two seasons with younger team. This season, that young talent has matured with playmakers all over the lineup from senior WR/DB, Broadhus Roberson (50 tackles, five interceptions), senior LB Connor Fewin (126 tackles), and junior DL Triston Miller on defense to sophomore RB, Tim Newman (804 yards rushing), sophomore WR/KR, Twan Flip and junior WR, DeAngelo Epps on offense. Now, Witman and company are eager to prove they can challenge for a CISAA and state championship.

--JAY EDWARDS

CHARLOTTE LATIN

Head Coach: Larry McNulty (32nd year as Charlotte Latin football coach/316-93).

2016 Record (Conference): 12-0 (4-0 in the CISAA)/NCISAA Division I state champions.

2017 Conference: CISAA

Returning Starters: 7 (3 offense; 4 defense).

Returning Lettermen: 11

Key Returning Starters: DeMarkes Stradford, Sr., RB (5-11, 185); Kemp Norris, Jr., OL (6-2, 260); Ryan Brouse, Jr., MLB (6-0, 225); Kevens Grammont, Jr., DL (6-2, 245); Todd Hartert, Sr., WR/DB (6-3, 170).

Key Newcomers: Bennett Smith, So., DE (6-5, 200); Grayson Clements, So., WR/DB (6-3, 185); Martin Sumicrast, Sr., QB (6-3, 190); Andrew Sumicrast, So., LB (6-1, 170).

Outlook: Coach Larry McNulty has been a model for consistency over three decades at Charlotte Latin, averaging 10 wins per season in that span. While it is going to be hard repeat their perfect 12-0 season from a year ago with a much younger team with only seven starters back. Latin has some big-time playmakers, like all-state senior RB, DeMarkes Stradford (1,488 yards rushing, 18 touchdowns) and all-state, senior MLB, Ryan Brouse (104 tackles), who hope to help McNulty finish his career on top of the CISAA and the state in his final season as the Hawks’ head coach.

--JAY EDWARDS

CHRIST THE KING

Head Coach: Jay Alverson (2nd year as Christ the King football coach/9-11 overall)

2016 Record (Conference): 0-10

2017 Conference: NCISAA Piedmont Athletic conference (PAC) 6 (new)/NCISAA Division III

Returning Starters: 18

Returning Lettermen: 24

Key Returning Starters: Bradley Loftin, Sr., LB (6-1, 220); Jack Hills, Sr., QB/WR (5-11, 180); Drew Brenner, So., LB/RB (5-10, 172); Max Grigolon, So., C (5-9, 205); Jose Sierra-Vences, So., OL (5-10, 240); Jimmy Sides, Sr., ATH (5-9, 200).

Key Newcomers: Seth Frederick, Sr., K (5-9, 148); Jay Brandon Jones, Jr., RB (5-8, 170) (Davidson Day transfer); Dylan Bryson, Jr., WR/DB (6-1, 190) (Hough transfer); Brennan Kelly, Fr., WR/DB (5-6, 160); Gavin Friagile, Fr., WR/DB (5-5, 150); Josh Angell, Fr., QB/WR/DB (5-8, 155); Noah Angell, Fr., OL/DL (5-6, 215).

Outlook: Christ the King has the experience and talent to make big strides in year two of the football program with 18 starters back and an influx of talent from Davidson Day and Hough transfers. But the Crusaders need playmakers like QB Jack Hills, LB’s Drew Brenner and Bradley Loftin to help what is still a young team grow up quickly if they are going to compete in the brutal, new PAC 6 conference with defending NCISAA Division III state champion, Statesville Christian, Concord First Assembly and more looming.

--JAY EDWARDS

COMMUNITY SCHOOL OF DAVIDSON

Head Coach: T.J. Albert (6th year as Comm. School of Davidson football coach).

2016 Record (Conference): 1-10 (1-5 in the South Piedmont 1A conference).

2017 Conference: South Piedmont 1A conference (SPC 1A).

Returning Starters: 12

Returning Lettermen: 20

Key Returning Starters: Luke Watts, Sr., QB (6-2, 185); Jeff Smith, Sr., OL/DL (6-1, 220); Sky Fuller, Sr., OL/DL (6-1, 225); Mark Lee, Sr., RB/LB (6-2, 185).

Key Newcomers: N/A.

Outlook: The Spartans went from a program-best 12-3 in 2015 to a program worst 1-10 in 2016.

While CSD should be better with 12 starters back, led by senior QB Luke Watts (1,165 yards passing), they still have an uphill climb if they want to make a move in a competitive, new PAC 7 conference and get back into the postseason.

--JAY EDWARDS

EAST MECKLENBURG

Head Coach: Barry Shuford (4th year as East Mecklenburg head coach).

2016 Record (Conference): 5-7, 2-4.

2017 Conference: Southwestern 4A (SW4A).

Returning Starters: 14

Returning Lettermen: 32

Key Returning Starters: Khalil Gilliam, Sr., QB (6-3, 195); Tarshawn Reed, Sr., DL/OL (6-2, 295); Chris Walden, Sr., OT/DT (6-2, 300); Cody Allen, Sr., G (6-0, 235).

Key Newcomers: Trey Truitt, So., HB/FB/QB/TE (5-11, 210); Curtis Jones, Jr., RB (5-9, 170).

Outlook: East Mecklenburg has made big strides overall in three seasons with Barry Shuford at the helm. But the Eagles didn’t make the jump they wanted to in 2016. However, Shuford and company have the talent, with 14 starters back to be a contender in the SW4A, but will have to do so without two-time, conference player of the year, senior RB, Khamal Howard, who transferred to Myers Park. The Eagles will look to four-year starter, senior QB Khalil Gilliam, versatile sophomore, Trey Truitt and a stout defense to starting winning the elusive, big games that can take them to the next level.

--JAY EDWARDS

GARINGER

Head Coach: Jeff Caldwell (1st year as Garinger football coach).

2016 Record (Conference): 0-11 (0-6 in the Southwestern 4A conference).

2017 Conference: Southwestern 4A conference

Returning Starters: 5

Returning Lettermen: 4

Key Returning Starters: Jalon Moore, Jr., RB/DB (6-1, 185); Malcolm Bailey, Jr., WR/DB (6-0, 175); Elijah Richardson, Jr., DE/LB (6-1, 220); Jackie Jones, Sr., OL/DL (6-4, 275); Blamah Kotay, Sr., DB (6-1, 180).

Key Newcomers: Shannon Bright, Jr., OL/DL (6-1, 260).

Outlook: Former West Mecklenburg coach, Jeff Caldwell, looks to breathe new life into a Garinger team that has lost 52 straight games, averaging only five points per game last season.

While Caldwell have proven he can rebuild a program, with only five starters back life won’t be easy in a deep and talented SW4A conference. But Caldwell believes he can help Garinger football get going back in the right direction.

--JAY EDWARDS

HARDING

Head Coach: Sam Greiner (3rd year as Harding football coach/6-14 at Harding).

2016 Record (Conference): 5-7 (3-4 in the SoMeck8 conference).

2017 Conference: SoMeck7 conference/4A.

Returning Starters: 15 (7 offense; 8 defense).

Returning Lettermen: 25

Key Returning Starters: Quavaris Crouch, Jr., RB (6-2, 225); Jovaughn Gwynn, Sr., OG (6-3, 300); Marcellous Harris, Sr., S (5-11, 195); Malik Dunlap, Sr., CB (6-4, 200); Braheam Murphy, Sr., QB (6-0, 170); Trayvon Corbett, Sr., CB (5-9, 170); Randall Carson, Sr., C (5-11, 275); Dorian Williams, Sr., LB (5-11, 180); Tristen Johnson, Jr., OT (6-3, 240); Reggie Burris, Sr., RB (5-8, 175); Maliek Faust, So., S (5-11, 185); Marquise Nelson, Sr., S (6-2, 180).

Key Newcomers: Boss Parson, Sr., LB (6-1, 220) (Garfield High (VA) transfer).

Outlook: Harding took a major step forward last year with their most wins since 2007 and first playoff appearance since 2010. This year, with 15 starters back, loaded with playmakers from junior RB, SoMeck8 conference player of the year, Quavaris Crouch (1,598 yards rushing, 20 touchdowns) to senior OG, Jovaughn Gwynn (major D-I recruit) to senior CB, Malik Dunlap (N.C. State commit), to newcomer, senior LB, Boss Parsons (Garfield High (VA) transfer), the Rams have the talent to not only have their 3rd winning season in last 27 seasons, but also be a major factor in the SoMeck7 conference race and into the postseason.

--JAY EDWARDS

HICKORY GROVE

Head Coach: Mike Pondo (4th year as Hickory Grove football coach/8-24 at Hickory Grove).

2016 Record (Conference): 1-9.

2017 Conference: NCISAA West conference (new)/NCISAA Division II.

Returning Starters: 17 (9 offense; 8 defense).

Returning Lettermen: 20

Key Returning Starters: Caleb Small, Sr., FB/DL (5-11, 235); Jaylyn Hargett-Boyce, Sr., WR/DB (6-1, 170); Christian Little, Sr., DL/TE (6-4, 245); Kaleb Johnson, Sr., WR (6-0, 160); John Grabowski, Sr., QB/LB (6-1, 205).

Key Newcomers: Robert Baldree, So., LB/FB/WB (6-0, 170); Luke Farthing, So., WB/LB; Chance Baucom, So., DE/TE (6-4, 215); Paris Taylor, So., LB/FB (6-1, 215).

Outlook: Hickory Grove has struggled in the last three years, winning just eight games in that span, including just one-win last season, where they averaged 10 points per game. But with 17 starters back, the Lions believe they can be much improved and be a factor in the new, NCISAA West conference. Hickory Grove seniors, QB John Grabowski, FB Caleb Small, WR Jaylyn Hargett-Boyce and DL Christian Little, will play major roles in just how much better the Lions can be in 2017.

--JAY EDWARDS

HOPEWELL

Head Coach: Quinn Martin (1st year as Hopewell football coach).

2016 Record (Conference): 1-10, 0-6 in the MECKA 4A conference.

2017 Conference: I-Meck/4AA.

Returning Starters: 6

Returning Lettermen: 12

Key Returning Starters: Tyreke King, Sr., DE/TE (6-2, 205); Ernest Davis, Jr., RB/LB (5-8, 185); Jalen Jones, Jr., WR/DB (6-0, 165); Jamir Johnson, Jr., OL/DL (5-9, 240).

Key Newcomers: Jaden Wilson, Jr., WR/DB (5-8, 150); Chalin Jones, Sr., WR/DB (5-8, 165).

Outlook: Hopewell has gone 1-10 the last two seasons, with only four wins in the last three years combined. With only six starters back and a new coach, Quinn Martin (just hired in July) from a team that averaged eight points per game last seasons, things don’t look any better in 2017. Moving back into a brutal, I-Meck 4A conference, with Lake Norman and Mooresville, also won’t make life any easier for the Titans.

--JAY EDWARDS

HOUGH

Head Coach: Matt Jenkins (1st year as Hough football coach).

2016 Record (Conference): 7-5 (4-2 in the MECKA 4A conference).

2017 Conference: I-Meck/4AA.

Returning Starters: 14

Returning Lettermen: 23

Key Returning Starters: Jarrett Nagy, Sr., RB/LB (5-9, 195); Rashad Williams, Sr., RB/DB (5-7, 175); Jonnie Varga, Sr., OG (6-2, 295); Miller Gibbs, Sr., WR (6-3, 195); Damon Early, Sr., DE/TE (6-3, 190); Tyus Fields, Jr., CB/WR (5-11, 185); Kevon Hilliard, Jr., DE/LB (6-3, 225); Cam Lewis, Jr., K (6-0, 180); Will Fording, Jr., DB (5-10, 180); Gio Paez, Jr., DT (6-3, 285).

Key Newcomers: Nolan Groulx, Jr., WR (5-11, 185) (Davidson Day transfer); Jack Carter, Sr., OL/DL (6-4, 285) (Davidson Day transfer); Austin Robinson, Jr., WR (6-2, 180); Kennique Bonner-Steward, Jr., QB (6-3, 205).

Outlook: After posting double-digit victories in 2013, 2014 and 2015, the Huskies slipped back a bit in 2016 with only seven wins. This year, first-year Hough coach (former Hopewell head coach), Matthew Jenkins, has plenty of talent back, including 14 starters to move back into contention in the I-Meck 4A conference. Hough has the pieces, led by the dynamic duo of senior RB’s Jarrett Nagy (1,053 yards rushing) and Rashad Williams (back from injury, over 1,000 yards rushing in 2015), junior CB/WR, Tyus Fields (seven rushing touchdowns, two interceptions), and Davidson Day transfer, junior WR, Nolan Groulx (108 catches, 1853 yards receiving, 24 touchdowns) to challenge for a league title and still be playing deep into the playoffs.

--JAY EDWARDS

INDEPENDENCE

Head Coach: Mike Natoli (1st year as Independence football coach/17-39 overall)

2016 Record (Conference): 2-9 (2-4 in the Southwestern 4A)

2017 Conference: Southwestern 4A/4AA

Returning Starters: 10

Returning Lettermen: 22

Key Returning Starters: Dylan Bryan, Sr., WR (5-9, 150); Tylon Clawson, Sr., LB (5-10, 190); Elijah Beamer, Sr., RB (5-6, 185); Kaleb Baker, Sr., OL/DL (6-1, 250); Dalton Eller, Sr., OL/DL (5-10, 242); Matt Smith, Jr., WR (6-4, 208).

Key Newcomers: Korey Hailey, So., QB (6-0, 177); Adrian Kilgo, Sr., DE/LB (6-2, 220); Cam Snyder, Sr., TE/LB (5-9, 194).

Outlook: Independence struggled mightily last season, averaging only 14 points per game, which resulted in only two victories. With their 4th different head coach in four years, life isn’t going to get any easier in a competitive, SW4A conference. But the Patriots do return 10 starters, including senior leaders, LB Tylon Lawson and RB Elijah Beamer, which gives first-year head coach, Mike Natoli, some experience as Independence looks for younger players to emerge and giving them a chance to finish in the top half of the SW4A and in playoff position.

--JAY EDWARDS

LAKE NORMAN CHARTER

Head Coach: Mark Steele (4th year as Lake Norman Charter football coach).

2016 Record (Conference): 5-6 (1-6 in Big South conference).

2017 Conference: South Fork 2A conference (new conference).

Returning Starters: 10

Returning Lettermen: 26

Key Returning Starters: Davis Wilder, Jr., WR/DB (6-1, 180); Owen Thomas, Jr., RB/LB (5-11, 185); Zack Rollins, Sr., OL/DL (6-1, 280); Jackson Newton, Sr., WR/DE (6-5, 210); Nick Patterson, Jr., OL/DL (6-1, 215).

Key Newcomers: Austin White, So., OL/LB (FILL); Ryan Muldowney, Jr., RB/DB (5-10, 140); Jakob Sealock, Jr., OL/LB (5-10, 175).

Outlook: Lake Norman Charter struggled in the Big South conference, including a 1-6 record last season (5-6 overall in 2016). This season, the Knights start fresh in the new, South Fork 2A, which won’t be any easier, but Lake Norman Charter should be competitive with playmakers, like junior WR/DB, Davis Wilder (74 tackles, five interceptions), senior OL/DL Zack Rollins, back to help get back in conference and playoff picture.

--JAY EDWARDS

MALLARD CREEK

Head Coach: Mike Palmieri (11th year as Mallard Creek football coach).

2016 Record (Conference): 9-3 (5-1 in the MECKA 4A conference).

2017 Conference: I-Meck/4AA.

Returning Starters: 5

Returning Lettermen: 25

Key Returning Starters/Players: Kalen Allen, Sr., LB (6-1, 230); Knowledge Gainey, Sr., WR/DB (6-2, 205); Aubrey Shaw, Jr., OL (6-0, 300); Jawan Tate, Sr., OL (6-7, 270); Cam Lowery, Sr., LB (6-0, 225); Angel Rivera, Sr., DE/TE (6-3, 225); Charles Johnson, Sr., DT (6-3, 300); Jordan Davis, Sr., DT (6-6, 315).

Key Newcomers: Lovelle Williams, Sr., WR/DB (5-10, 175); Treylen Brown, Sr., TE/DL/OL (6-1, 280); Jalen Weddington, Sr., DB/LB (5-10, 200).

Outlook: Mallard Creek coach, Mike Palmieri, has often says "his team’s goal is to be playing for rings every year," and they did that winning three straight 4AA state championship from 2013-15. However, this year the Mavericks have plenty of motivation after a nine-win season (2016) ended with a second round loss to Butler. Mallard Creek has the talent to get back into conference and state championship form with playmakers all over the field from seniors LB’s Kalen Allen and Cam Lowery to DL’s Charles Johnson, Jordan Davis and OL Jawan Tate.

--JAY EDWARDS

MYERS PARK

Head Coach: Scott Chadwick (4th year as Myers Park football coach/23-15 at Myers Park; 136-78 overall).

2016 Record (Conference): 11-2 (5-1 in the Southwestern 4A conference).

2017 Conference: Southwestern 4A conference.

Returning Starters: 11 (7 offense; 4 defense).

Returning Lettermen: N/A.

Key Returning Starters: Elijah Bowick, Jr., WR (6-2, 210); Conner Collins, Sr., OL (6-5, 270); Shane Collins, Sr., LB (6-1, 200); Cameron Roseman-Sinclair, So., FS (6-0, 195); Jaylen Nichols, Jr., OL/DL (6-5, 300); Juwan Truesdale, Jr., LT (6-5, 255); Trey Bly, Jr., DB (5-8, 140); Jacquez Robinson, Jr., RB (5-8, 195); Emanuel Alston, Sr., WR (5-10, 170); Joshua Curry, Sr., WR (5-10, 175); Garland Greenway, Sr., TE/DE (6-2, 215); Tyler Dameron, Sr., K (5-9, 170).

Key Newcomers: Brayden Hawkins, Sr., QB (6-3, 215) (Dillon, SC transfer); Muhsin Muhammad, So., WR (6-0, 170) (Providence Day transfer); Blake Hackworth, Sr., LB/RB (Independence transfer); Jake Harkleroad, Jr., LB (5-9, 200); Khamal Howard, Sr., RB (5-11, 210) (East Mecklenburg transfer).

OUTLOOK: Myers Park made a major move in 2016, tying a school-record with 11 victories, but ended the season in heartbreaking fashion with an overtime loss to Vance in the second round of the plays. This season, Coach Scott Chadwick and company are eager to build on that, and have plenty of talent returning -- led by junior WR, Elijah Bowick (68 catches for 1,180 yards and 19 touchdowns) and sophomore FS, Cameron Roseman-Sinclair. They also have a lot of talent coming in -- including Dillon (SC) transfer, QB Brayden Hawkins (led to 3A state championship game) and East Mecklenburg transfer, two-time, SW4A player of the year, Khamal Howard (2,337 yards rushing, 22 touchdowns) – which makes Myers Park a serious, conference contender and a team that should be playing deep into the 4AA playoffs.

--JAY EDWARDS

NORTH MECKLENBURG

Head Coach: Eric Morman (1st year as North Mecklenburg football coach).

2016 Record (Conference): 3-8 (1-5 in the MECKA 4A conference).

2017 Conference: I-Meck/4AA

Returning Starters: 10 (1 offense; 9 defense).

Returning Lettermen: 26

Key Returning Starters: Emmanuel Wilson, Sr., RB (6-0, 205); Yancey Hairston, Sr., DE/WR (6-5, 205); Dantevian Byrd, Sr., LB/TE (6-1, 210); Jabril Griffine, Sr., FS (6-1, 180); Eric Hudson, Jr., MLB (5-10, 200)

Key Newcomers: N/A.

Outlook: The once powerful, North Mecklenburg football program has had only one winning season in the last decade (7-5 in 2015) and life won’t get any easier as I-Meck 4A conference reforms with Mallard Creek, Hough, Lake Norman, Mooresville and more. But first-year coach, Eric Morman (former Richmond Senior player, West Stanly coach) and the Vikings do have a recipe for success -- with a strong running game led by senior RB, Emmanuel Wilson (1,450 yards rushing, 14 touchdowns) and an experienced defense (nine starters back) led by LB’s Eric Hudson, Dantevian Byrd – to try to notch a winning season and get in playoff position.

--JAY EDWARDS

NORTHSIDE CHRISTIAN

Head Coach: Greg Tally (2nd year as Northside Christian football coach/7-12 at Northside Christian).

2016 Record (Conference): 6-5.

2017 Conference: NCISAA West conference/NCISAA Division III.

Returning Starters: 7

Returning Lettermen: 16

Key Returning Starters: Elijah Johnson, Jr., QB/CB (5-10, 175); Blake Ferguson, Jr., C/MLB (6-0, 215); Malachi Rennix, Jr., WR/CB (5-7, 165); Christian McMoore, Jr., OL (5-9, 250); Josiah Andrews, Sr., OL (6-1, 220).

Key Newcomers: N/A.

Outlook: The Knights made big strides in year two of the program, as Coach Greg Tally and company won six games (one win in 2015) before falling to eventual, NCISAA Division III state champion, Statesville Christian the playoffs. This year, Northside Christian move into a tough, NCISAA West conference, but will look to junior QB, Elijah Johnson (1,758 yards passing, 21 touchdowns) and an experienced offensive line (four of five starters back) to be a factor and league play and try to get their first postseason win and more.

--JAY EDWARDS

OLYMPIC

Head Coach: Jason Fowler (1st year Olympic football coach).

2016 Record (Conference): 5-7 (3-4 in the SoMeck8 conference).

2017 Conference: SoMeck7

Returning Starters: 10

Returning Lettermen: 15

Key Returning Starters: Dylan Earney, Sr., QB (6-2, 160); Damon Rouse, Sr., RB (5-10, 205); Tyler Ashwood, Sr., OL (6-6, 330); Aaron Judkins, Sr., LB (5-9, 190); Tyrik Campbell, Sr., ATH (5-9, 180); Raynard Gassaway, Sr., DE (5-11, 220).

Key Newcomers: Nubrien Burt, Sr., LB (5-10, 195).

Outlook: Former Rocky River head coach, Jason Fowler, moves down I-485 to take over an Olympic program with the experience (10 starters back) to be a factor in the SoMeck7 conference race. Senior leaders, QB Dylan Earney and RB Damon Rouse (1,020 yards rushing, 16 touchdowns) look to help a feisty, Trojan team to their first winning season since 2013, giving them in better playoff position.

--JAY EDWARDS

PROVIDENCE

Head Coach: Brad Bowles (3rd year as Providence football coach).

2016 Record (Conference): 3-8 (2-4 in the SoMeck8 conference).

2017 Conference: SoMeck7 conference/4AA.

Returning Starters: 9 (4 offense; 5 defense).

Returning Lettermen: N/A.

Key Returning Starters: Jack Cherry, Sr., QB (6-1, 200); Julian Boddie, Sr., RB (5-10, 195); Nick King, Jr., DL (6-2, 250); John Kendrew, Sr., DL (6-4, 320); Gavin Reeder, Jr., DL (6-0, 270).

Key Newcomers: Kendren Smith, Jr., DB (6-1, 180); Will Gean, Sr., LB (5-11, 230); Jack Wilkes, Jr., LB (6-1, 210).

Outlook: Providence struggled in conference play last year losing their last four games to finish 3-8 overall. This year, the Panthers have reasons to believe they can be much improved -- with seniors, QB Jack Cherry (1,800 yards passing), RB Julian Boddie (1,080 yards rushing) and a solid defense led by junior DL, Nick King (six sacks) -- which should give them a chance to get back in the SoMeck7 conference race and into the playoffs.

--JAY EDWARDS

PROVIDENCE DAY

Head Coach: Adam Hastings (3rd year as Providence Day football coach)

2016 Record (Conference): 3-7 (0-3 in the CISAA)

2017 Conference: CISAA/NCISAA Division I

Returning Starters: 18

Returning Lettermen: 25

Key Returning Starters: Elijah Brown, Sr., OL/DL (6-4, 295); Porter Rooks, So., WR/DB (6-3, 185); Hudson Reynolds, Jr., OL/DL (6-2, 245); Kyle Wood, Sr., WR/DB (6-0, 175); Jacolbe Cowan, So., DE/TE (6-5, 250); Osita Ekownu, Jr., LB (6-2, 215); Cole Brown, Sr., LB (5-10, 200).

Key Newcomers: N/A.

Outlook: The Chargers struggled last year going 3-7, taking their lumps with a younger team. But with 18 starters back -- Coach Hastings has loads of talent, led by a strong senior class including all-state OL/DL, Elijah Brown and all-state, sophomore WR/DB Porter Rooks – that gives them a shot to right in the thick of the CISAA race and makes them a dangerous postseason matchup.

--JAY EDWARDS

ROCKY RIVER

Head Coach: Orlando Gray (1st year as Rocky River football coach).

2016 Record (Conference): 4-7 (2-4 in the Southwestern 4A conference).

2017 Conference: Southwestern 4A conference (SW4A).

Returning Starters: 15 (5 offense; 10 defense).

Returning Lettermen: 19

Key Returning Starters: Jaylon Sharpe, Jr., TE/LB (6-2, 210); Zyone Easterling, Jr., SS (5-11, 175); Garrett Rhinehardt, Sr., OT (6-3, 280); James Maye, Jr., WR (5-9, 155); Jailyn Wilson, Sr., WR (5-9, 175); Abrion Pearson, Sr., DL (6-1, 260).

Key Newcomers: Gabe Linen, Jr., RB/LB (5-8, 165); Brent Jones, Jr., QB (6-1, 205); Khalil Turner, Jr., WR/FS (5-10, 155); Brian Grier, So., LB (5-10, 205).

Outlook: First-year coach, Orlando Gray, says his Rocky River team has "a new culture and new attitude," this season. The Ravens return 15 starters, including 10 on the defensive side of the ball, led by all-conference juniors, LB Jaylon Sharpe and SS Zyone Easterling. But Coach Gray and company face an uphill battle in a brutal SW4A conference, where finishing in the upper half of the league standings and making the playoffs would be a big accomplishment in 2017.

--JAY EDWARDS

SOUTHLAKE CHRISTIAN

Head Coach: Mike Causey (3rd year as SouthLake Christian football coach; 10th year at SouthLake Christian overall).

2016 Record (Conference): 3-8.

2017 Conference: NCISAA/Piedmont Athletic conference (PAC) 6.

Returning Starters: 18

Returning Lettermen: 20

Key Returning Starters: Will Huss, Sr., RB (5-11, 205); Bailey Jones, Sr., QB (5-10, 180); Braeden McCarthy, Jr., WR (6-2, 180); Luca Lutzel, So., S (5-10, 160); Greyson Sundgren, Sr., DB (6-3, 180); Luke Binkley, Jr., LB (5-10, 180); Beau Bullerdick, So., WR (5-10, 180); Donovan Lewis, Jr., LB (6-2, 185).

Key Newcomers: N/A.

Outlook: SouthLake Christian took their lumps last season in their first year back as a full varsity team, going 3-8. But this year, with 18 starters back, led by senior QB Bailey Jones (1,319 yards passing), RB Will Huss (550 yards rushing, 10 touchdowns) and junior LB, Luke Binkley (82 tackles), Coach Causey and company are "excited," about this team’s potential. The Eagles have also rebuilt their roster with 35-40 players, which will give them the depth and talent to compete for a playoff berth.

--JAY EDWARDS

SOUTH MECKLENBURG

Head Coach: Rocky White (6th year as South Mecklenburg football coach/28-30 at South Mecklenburg; 52-65 at West Mecklenburg).

2016 Record (Conference): 6-6 (4-3 in the SoMeck8).

2017 Conference: SoMeck7

Returning Starters: 11 (7 offense; 4 defense).

Returning Lettermen: 26

Key Returning Starters: Deangelo Blair-Young, Sr., LB/RB (6-0, 215); Jazir Staton, Sr., DB (6-1, 185); Mac Neely, Jr., OL (6-1, 265); Adam George, Sr., OL (6-5, 300); Jordan McKinney, Sr., WR/DB (5-10, 170); Soloman Ogina, Sr., WR (5-10, 170); David Brown, So., DT (6-1, 290).

Key Newcomers: Tucker Cornette, Jr., LB/DE (6-2, 205); Jabar Dixon, Jr., RB (5-10, 175); Montigo Moss, So., WR (6-0, 175); Cam Yeager, Jr., QB (5-11, 175); Paxton Williamson, Sr., K/P (5-10, 165);

Outlook: After and eight and nine-win seasons in the 2014 and 2015 seasons, respectively, the Sabres were up and down at 6-6 last season. With Charlotte Catholic out of the conference, Coach Rocky White has the talent to be a SoMeck7 contender with two-way all-conference, senior LB/RB DeAngelo Blair (85 tackles on defense; 12 rushing touchdowns on offense) and 11 starters back in the fold. But the Sabres will have to grow up quickly to survive a brutal non-conference slate to open the season, including at Marvin Ridge, while hosting Charlotte Catholic, Northwestern, Myers Park and Vance in the first month of the season.

--JAY EDWARDS

VANCE

Head Coach: Aaron Brand (4th year as Vance football coach; 30-12 at Vance; 41-16 overall).

2016 Record (Conference): 13-2 (5-1 in the MECKA 4A).

2017 Conference: I-Meck 4A conference (4AA).

Returning Starters: 6

Returning Lettermen: 12

Key Returning Starters: Gerald Nathan (Jr.), Sr., LB (6-2, 215); Damir Faison, Sr., DE/FB (6-4, 250); Teonne Porter, Sr., SS (6-0, 170); Kalen Clark, Sr., RB (6-0, 210); M.J. Williams, Sr., RB/DB (5-8, 175); Luke Thrower, Sr., OL (6-4, 310).

Key Newcomers: Nigel Summerville, Jr. QB.

Outlook: Vance has made big strides under Coach Aaron Brand with 30 wins in his three years as head coach, including a 13-2, 4AA state semifinal run last season. This season, the Cougars must reload with only six starters back and will need seniors, DE Damir Faison and LB Gerald Nathan, Jr., RB Kalen Clark and junior QB Nigel Summerville to step up as playmakers if they are going to be a factor in a brutal, I-Meck conference and into the postseason.

--JAY EDWARDS

VICTORY CHRISTIAN

Head Coach: Shaun Gaines (1st year as Victory Christian football coach)

2016 Record (Conference): 1-7 (1-2)

2017 Conference: NCISAA West Conference/NCISAA Division III

Returning Starters: 0

Returning Lettermen: 2

Key Returning Players: Trevon Coleman, Sr., TE (6-3, 195); Matthew Spencer, So., LB (6-2, 190).

Key Newcomers: N/A.

Outlook: First-year coach, Shaun Gaines, looks to rebuild a Victory Christian team that has won only three games in the last two years, after 22 wins from 2012 to 2014. Without any starters back and only two letterman returning, the Kings face a major challenge in the NCISAA West conference, but hope to take steps in the right direction in 2017.

--JAY EDWARDS

WEST CHARLOTTE

Head Coach: Joshua Harris (1st year as West Charlotte football coach).

2016 Record (Conference): 2-9 (2-4 in the MECKA 4A conference).

2017 Conference: I-Meck 4A (4AA).

Returning Starters: 11

Returning Lettermen: N/A.

Key Returning Starters: Joshua Hollingsworth, Sr., SS/LB (6-0, 190); Jadarius Horton, Sr., FS/WR (6-0, 180); Bacari McFadgion, Jr., MLB (6-0, 200).

Key Newcomers: N/A.

Outlook: The Lions have posted back-to-back 2-9 records, and moving back into one of the state’s toughest leagues in the I-Meck 4A won’t make the 2017 season any easier. 1st-year coach, Joshua Harris, looks to bring some stability to a team that has had four head coaches in the last three years. Seniors, SS/LB Joshua Hollingsworth (89 tackles), FS/WR Jadarius Horton (11 interceptions) and junior MLB Bacari McFadgion (80 tackles) look to help a young team take steps in the right direction.

--JAY EDWARDS

WEST MECKLENBURG

Head Coach: Jarvis Davis (2nd year as West Mecklenburg football coach)

2016 Record (Conference): 9-4 (6-2 in the SoMeck8 conference)

2017 Conference: SoMeck7/4A

Returning Starters: 14 (7 offense; 7 defense)

Returning Lettermen: N/A

Key Returning Starters: Dyami Brown, Sr., WR/RB/DB (6-2, 180); Khafre Brown, Jr., WR/RB/DB (6-1, 170); Tyler Barnes, Sr., WR (6-4, 195); Zyquis Law, Sr., LB/DB (6-0, 165); William Barringer, Sr., LB (6-0, 190); Anthony Hall, Sr., DL/LB (6-0, 220).

Key Newcomers: Hsani Sneed, Sr., QB; Preston Brown, Jr., QB; Josh Hudson, Sr., DE/LB; Marquail Burris, Jr., WR/DB; J’Mari Taylor, So., RB.

Outlook: The Hawks surprised a lot of their opponents last season going 9-4 in Coach Jarvis Davis’ first season as head coach. While West Meck won’t be sneaking up on anyone this year, Coach Davis and company believe they can be even better led by one of the most dynamic duos in the state in brothers, Dyami (North Carolina commit, 1400 rushing/receiving yards, 14 touchdowns) and Khafre Brown (12 touchdowns), and WR Tyler Barnes (46 receptions, 11 touchdowns), who can score any time they touch the ball. With 14 starters back, the Hawks won’t nothing less than a SoMeck7 conference title and a deep playoff run (lost in 2nd round last year).

--JAY EDWARDS

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