When he was a freshman at Myers Park High, offensive lineman Conner Collins said he’d walk around south Charlotte in green football shirts and hardly anyone noticed.
Things have certainly changed in three years.
“Older people stop me,” said Collins, now a 6-foot-4, 275-pound senior, “and they say they went to school (at Myers Park) or they saw us in the newspaper or on TV. More people say they’re coming to watch this year. Everyone just seems like they’re excited.”
Myers Park has enjoyed one of the most successful athletic programs in N.C. High School Athletic Association history, annually competing for and winning state championships in most of its sports teams. But the Mustangs have never won in football, perhaps the one sport the school cares about most.
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There is a feeling around school that this team has a shot this season.The Mustangs tied a school record for wins (11) last season, return 11 starters and have added four transfers who will likely play Division I college football. One is a two-time conference player of the year.
Myers Park opens its season Saturday night at 8 at Memorial Stadium against Charlotte Country Day. Throughout preseason practices, Mustangs fans were plentiful in the stands. Coach Scott Chadwick joked that if the school had charged admission, it would have made enough money to pay a few bills.
“My first year,” Chadwick said, “we would have a parent meeting (for football) and only the die-hards would come. Now, we pack the entire gym when we have a parent meeting.”
In his first three seasons, Chadwick led Myers Park to 23 wins. That’s the best three-year run the Mustangs have had since 1965, when the school ended a three-year streak of 24 wins, culminating with an 11-0 season that ended with a win against Garinger in the N.C. Region 2 championship game. That game was a state semifinal, and the Mustangs didn’t get to play Durham for a state championship because none was held that season.
In 2005, Myers Park reached the state semifinals under coach Jim Ruark but lost 48-14 to Independence. Because this team is stocked with so much talent, there is a feeling this could be the first Mustangs team to reach the championship round.
Of the 11 starters returning, seven are on offense, including all-conference junior Elijah Bowick, who is ranked No. 13 in North Carolina’s 2019 recruiting class by scout.com. Bowick has scholarship offers from SEC and ACC schools.
The Mustangs also added the four high-profile transfers:
▪ Quarterback Brayden Hawkins threw for nearly 3,000 yards and 31 touchdowns at S.C. power Dillon last season.
▪ Cornerback Todd Harter started for Charlotte Latin’s N.C. Division I Independent Schools state champion.
▪ Muhsin Muhammad III, son of the former Carolina Panthers receiver, transferred from Providence Day and has offers from Virginia Tech and Wake Forest.
▪ And Khamal Howard, a two-time Southwestern 4A Offensive Player of the Year, transferred from East Mecklenburg. He rushed for more than 2,000 yards last year.
“I think anytime you build a program that’s attractive,” Chadwick said, “you know people will do what they have to do to be a part of it. I’ll say this: We didn’t recruit anybody. ...They did what they legally had to do to enroll.”
Chadwick said his first 20 players are superior to his top 20 from last season’s 11-2 team that lost 41-38 in overtime to Vance in the second round of the N.C. 4AA playoffs. He has concerns about his depth, particularly on his offensive and defensive lines. But he admits its hard to ignore this team’s potential.
“If we’re healthy and we continue to get better,” he said, “I think we’ve got a shot to be there at the end (for the state final). There is a little bit of work that goes into this. ...Brayden threw for 3,000 yards, but he didn’t do that here.
“Khamal didn’t run behind this offensive line. We’ve got some weapons offensively and I’d be foolish if I tried to deny that fact, but this takes time.”
The Mustangs’ faithful have waited a while for a season like this, and Collins said the players can feel the community’s excitement. But they aren’t nearly as excited as the players, he said.
“I’ve never been on a state championship team, so I don’t know exactly how far we can go,” Collins said. “But I do think we can go deep into the playoffs and possibly win states. I know that in my gut.”
Wertz: 704-358-5133; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr
SATURDAY'S KEY MATCHUPS
Vance vs. West Mecklenburg, at Memorial Stadium, 2 p.m.: Vance, No. 8 in the Observer’s Sweet 16 poll, is reloading after last year’s 13-2 season, and the Cougars open the Charlotte Kickoff Classic against a loaded Warriors team led by brothers Dyami and Khafre Brown. West Meck is 16th in the poll.
Olympic vs. Providence Day, at Memorial Stadium, 5 p.m.: Two teams on the rise meet in the Kickoff Classic’s second game. Former Rocky River coach Jason Fowler makes his debut with Olympic, and he has 10 returning starters. But the Chargers have 18 returning starters, including all-state receiver Porter Rooks.
Charlotte Country Day vs. Myers Park, at Memorial Stadium, 8 p.m.: Neighborhood rivals square off in the Kickoff Classic nightcap. Myers Park, No. 7 in the Sweet 16, is loaded and is a state 4A power. Country Day, led by running Tim Newman, hopes to reap the rewards of playing many freshmen and sophomores last year.