High School Sports

Prep football preview: all-Gaston County team, school-by-school breakdowns

UNC recruit Elijah Burris out for titles, records in 2019

UNC recruit Elijah Burris of Mountain Island Charter has a shot to become a top 10 rusher in NC high school history. But he's out for much more than that.
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UNC recruit Elijah Burris of Mountain Island Charter has a shot to become a top 10 rusher in NC high school history. But he's out for much more than that.

The Observer is previewing all of its 137 high school football playing schools in preseason, with all-county teams, school previews and conference predictions.

Here is Gaston County.

LINK: Mountain Island Charter’s Elijah Burris: UNC recruit, rare talent

All-Gaston County preseason team

OFFENSE

QB – Zo Wallace, Hunter Huss, 6-2, 210, Sr.

RB – Elijah Burris, Mountain Island Charter, 5-10, 210, Sr.

RB – Naseem Jones, South Point, 6-0, 190, Sr.

WR – Ray (Rose) Grier, South Point, 6-3, 210, Sr.

WR – Lamar Golightly, Forestview, 6-1, 175, Jr.

TE – Kendall Karr, Stuart Cramer, 6-4, 230, Sr.**

OL – Collin Owensby, South Point, 6-4, 200, Sr.

OL – Isaiah Gibson, North Gaston, 6-2, 260, Sr.

OL – Nathan Linkous, Stuart Cramer, 6-5, 280, Jr.

OL – Nick Sharpe, Hunter Huss, 6-2, 302, Jr.\u0009

OL – Brady Wayburn, Forestview, 6-5, 295, Jr.

OL – Darius Boyd, Bessemer City, 6-1, 305, Sr.

Specialists

ATH – Tyrese Morris, Stuart Cramer, 5-6, 155, Sr.

SPEC – Jayden Blanton, Cherryville, 6-1, 200, Sr.

K/P – Holt Cloninger, Forestview, 5-10, 185, Sr.

DEFENSE

DL – Kiantai Degree, Bessemer City, 6-3, 230, Sr.

DL – Carter Merrill, Stuart Cramer, 6-3, 215, Sr.

DL – Justin Dunovant, North Gaston, 5-10, 305, Sr.

LB – Andrew Beam, Cherryville, 5-10, 210, Sr.

LB – Quan Willis, Ashbrook, 5-11, 185, Sr.

LB – Anthony Dye, Hunter Huss, 5-10, 220, Sr.

LB – Omar Hunt, South Point, 6-0, 185, Sr.

DB – Jaylin Truesdale, Stuart Cramer, 5-8, 180, Sr.

DB – Devon King, South Point, 6-0, 190, Sr.

DB – Dontavius Nash, Hunter Huss, 6-2, 170, Jr.

DB – Gabe Stephens, Mountain Island Charter, 6-3, 205, Sr.

Gaston County Preseason Offensive Player of the Year: Zo Wallace, Hunter Huss, QB, Sr.

Gaston County Preseason Defensive Player of the Year: Kiantai Degree, Bessemer City, DL, Sr.

Gaston County Preseason Coach of the Year: Adam Hodge, South Point.

**Out for the season with torn ACL.

School by school previews

ASHBROOK

Head Coach: Brian Andrews (3rd year as Ashbrook football coach, 9-15 at Ashbrook).

2018 Record: 5-7 (3-4 in the Big South Conference).

2019 Conference: Big South Conference/3AA.

Returning Starters: 12

Returning Letterman: 12

Key Returning Starters: Quan Willis, Sr., LB (5-11, 185); Kendall Massey, Sr., RB/DB (6-0, 190); Trey Byers, Sr., WR/DB (6-0, 188); Julian Londeree, Sr., OL/DL (6-4, 260); Chandler Meeks, So., QB (5-10, 165); Jamari Adams, Sr., OL/DL (5-11, 243); Matt West, Sr., QB/DB (6-2, 180); Tyler Derr, Sr. DB (5-10, 170); Jordan Mackins, Sr., OL/DL (6-3, 240).

Key Newcomers: Cameron Smith, Jr., RB/DB (5-9, 175); Nasir Williams, Sr., RB/DB (5-10, 168); Brandon Lewis, Jr., RB/LB (5-10, 173); Joseph Sanders, Sr., RB/DE (5-9, 190).

Outlook: The Green Wave has been up and down in the last five years, going 24-36 without a winning season. This year, with 12 starters back, Ashbrook has the experience to make a move up the Big South standings. If Green Wave seniors like RB Kendall Massey and LB Quan Willis step into bigger roles, Ashbrook will return to the playoffs.

BESSEMER CITY

Head Coach: Larry Boone (16th year as Bessemer City head coach; 83-100 overall).

2018 Record: 7-6 (5-2 in the South Piedmont 1A conference (SPC 1A)).

2019 Conference: SPC 1A/1AA.

Returning Starters: 10

Returning Letterman: 21

Key Returning Starters: Kiantai Degree, Sr., DL (6-3, 230); Addison Dellinger, Sr., DL (6-2, 200); Jarkevious Love, Sr., RB (5-10, 140); Tyler Martin, Sr., RB (5-8, 150); Darius Boyd, Sr., OL (6-0, 305); Gavin King, Sr., OL (5-8, 225); Sammy Jones, Jr., OL (6-2, 225).

Key Newcomers: N/A.

Outlook: The Yellow Jackets won 20 games in 2016 and 2017 before slipping to 7-6 last year. But with 10 starters back, Bessemer City believes it can be contend for a SPC championship. The Yellow Jackets have big-time playmakers in senior RB Jarkevious Love (1,155 yards rushing, 14 touchdowns last year) and DL Kiantai Degree (104 tackles, 21.5 tackles for a loss, nine sacks). Bessemer City’s game-plan will be simple: run the ball and stop the run. Coach Larry Boone believe that formula will lead the Yellow Jackets into postseason play.

CHERRYVILLE

Head Coach: Tim Pruitt (5th year as Cherryville head coach; 15-30 at Cherryville; 61-92 overall).

2018 Record: 7-5 (4-3 in the South Piedmont 1A Conference (SPC 1A)).

2019 Conference: SPC 1A/1AA.

Returning Starters: 7

Returning Letterman: 14

Key Returning Starters: Andrew Beam, Sr., LB/OG (5-10, 210); Jayden Blanton, Sr., RB (6-1, 200); Dylan Harden, Sr., QB (5-11, 155); Logan Ford, Sr., OT/DE; Christian Hahn, Jr., SS/WR; Dawson Moore, Sr., K (5-6, 155).

Key Newcomers: Gage Price, Jr., LB/FB (5-9, 180); Jackson Bowers, Sr., OT/DE (Forestview transfer); Michael Walsh, Jr., NG; Dawson Long, Jr., C/LB.

Outlook: Cherryville posted its first winning season 22 years in 2018, giving the Ironmen a lot of reasons to be excited about the 2019 season, despite the Ironmen returning just seven starters. Senior QB Dylan Harden (1,250 yards passing, 10 touchdowns last year) and senior RB Jayden Blanton (school-record 1,400 yards rushing, 23 touchdowns) are back to lead the offense. Meanwhile, senior LB Andrew Beam headlines the defense. Cherryville is eager to build on their first winning season since 1996 by staying above .500 and returning to the playoffs.

EAST GASTON

Head Coach: Jason Lippard (1st year as East Gaston head coach; 9th year overall; 29-40 overall).

2018 Record: 0-11 (0-5 in the Southwestern 2A Conference).

2019 Conference: Southwestern 2A Conference/2A.

Returning Starters: 7

Returning Letterman: 22

Key Returning Starters: K.J. Dagout, Sr., RB/S (6-0, 180); Carson Clemmer, Sr., OL/DE (6-0, 185); Abel Alvarez, Sr., WR/C (6-1, 180); Nate Madici, Sr., C (6-0, 280); Jeremiah Harris, Jr., DE (6-0, 250); Chase Hart, Sr., OT (6-0, 270); Trey Maddy, Sr., OL/LB (5-11, 190).

Key Newcomers: Tobias Newsome, Jr., OL/DL (6-0, 260); Jaxson Cogdill, So., LB/FB (5-11, 200); Zach Lavergne, Jr., FB/LB (5-10, 205); Josiah Lucas, So., OL/DL (6-3, 280); Dylan West, TE (6-3, 190).

Outlook: A new head coach with just seven returning starters from a 0-11 team last year is not a recipe for success. But coach Jason Lippard and the Warriors hope to imrove on a three-year record of 5-28. East Gaston will look to senior RB K.J. Dagout and a veteran offensive line, including Carson Clemmer, Chase Hurt and Nate Madici, to lead an offense that will have to score more points. East averaged eight points per game last season. The Warriors will look to break a 14-game losing streak and get the program turned around.

FORESTVIEW

Head Coach: Chris Medlin (13th year as Forestview head coach; 77-70 overall).

2018 Record: 3-8 (1-6 in the Big South Conference).

2019 Conference: Big South Conference/3A.

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

Returning Letterman: 20

Key Returning Starters: Holt Cloninger, Sr., K/P (5-10, 185); Jamarion Dawkins, Jr., RB/LB (5-10, 185); Brady Wayburn, Jr., OL/DL (6-5, 295); Gabe Duff, Sr., LB (5-10, 215); Lamar Golightly, Jr., WR (6-1, 175).

Other Key Returnees: Graham Wiggins, Sr., QB (6-3, 195); Carter Price, Sr., LB (5-9, 175).

Outlook: Forestview has struggled in the last two years going 7-16 in that span. This year, the Jaguars return 11 starters with juniors, RB Jamarion Dawkins and WR Lamar Golightly, leading the offense. Forestview also has a game-changer in K/P Holt Cloninger (Big South conference specialist of the year), who made four, 50-plus yard field goals last year. The Jaguars have the team to get back above .500 and return to the playoffs for the first time since 2016.

HIGHLAND TECH

Head Coach: David DeLao (2nd year as Highland Tech head coach).

2018 Record: 4-7 (1-6 in the South Piedmont 1A conference (SPC 1A)).

2019 Conference: SPC 1A/1A.

Returning Starters: 5

Returning Letterman: 5

Key Returning Starters: Kobe Christensen, Sr., TE/DE (6-4, 215); Caleb Foster, Jr., RB (5-10, 185); Zak Love, Sr., RB/DB (5-7, 145); D.J. Jameson, Jr., OL/DL (5-11, 245); Logan Jones, Sr., RB/LB (5-7, 165).

Key Newcomers: Trent Dockery, So., OL/DL (6-2, 245); Luke Whitted, So., QB/DB (6-3, 200); Nehemiah Smith, So., QB/DB (5-6, 145).

Outlook: The Rams’ four-win season a year ago was the most victories they had in a decade (2008). This year, Highland Tech will look to keep that momentum going, with only five starters returning. The Rams will run with seniors Zak Love and Logan Jones to try to control the clock and keep games close.

HUNTER HUSS

Head Coach: Jamar McKoy (6th year as Hunter Huss head coach; 37-27 overall).

2018 Record: 13-1 (7-0 in the Big South Conference).

2019 Conference: Big South Conference/3A.

Returning Starters: 6

Returning Letterman: 12

Key Returning Starters/Other Key Returnees: Zo Wallace, Sr., QB (6-2, 210); Jalen Parsons, Sr., C (5-11, 260); Nick Sharpe, Jr., OL/DL (6-2, 302); Anthony Dye, Sr., MLB (5-10, 220); Malik Corry, Jr., RB (5-9, 178); Dontavious Nash, Jr., ATH (6-2, 170); Jacob Bracket, Sr., FS (5-10, 180); Jalen Ledet, Sr., LB (5-11, 200); Vontray Ratliff, Sr., SS (5-11, 180); Luis Escheverria, Sr., K (5-9, 165); Robert Taylor, Sr., OL (6-2, 310).

Key Newcomers: N/A.

Outlook: The Huskies were perfect for the first 13 games of the season, including a Big South conference title, before losing to Charlotte Catholic in the third round of the 3A state playoffs. This year, Huss returns senior QB Zo Wallace (2,425 yards passing), junior RB Malik Corry (1,167 yards rushing) and junior WR/DB Dontavious Nash. Huss doesn’t have a lot of experience but enough talent to make another league title and playoff run.

MOUNTAIN ISLAND CHARTER

Head Coach: Robert Washington (5th year as Mountain Island Charter football coach; 32-15 at Mountain Island Charter).

2018 Record: 7-5 (5-2 in the South Piedmont 1A Conference (SPC 1A)).

2019 Conference: NA

Returning Starters: 18

Returning Letterman: 25

Key Returning Starters: Elijah Burris, Sr., RB (5-10, 210); Gabe Stephens, Jr., ATH (6-3, 205); Kobe Creamer, Sr., ATH (5-8, 180); Durrell Johnson, Sr., WR (6-1, 180); Demetrius Washington, Sr., ATH (5-11, 170); Christian Hunter, Jr., DB (5-9, 160); Omari Philyaw, So., ATH (5-11, 175); Josh McGraw, Jr., OL (6-1, 260); Myles Perry, Sr., OL/DL (6-1, 300); Jon Kilimbu, Sr., OL/DL (5-11, 240); Jaden Fisher, Sr., WR/LB (6-0, 185).

Key Newcomers: Markel McKinney, So., RB/LB (6-0, 205); Jadon Robinson, Jr., ATH (5-9, 160); Nyzir Steward, Jr., ATH (5-10, 160).

Outlook: Mountain Island Charter has established itself a consistent winner, with 25 victories over the last five years. This season, with 18 starters back, the Raptors have greater expectations. The Mountain Island Charter offense, which averaged nearly 40 points per game last season, will be potent again led by senior RB Elijah Burris (University of North Carolina commit, 2,832 yards rushing, 34 touchdowns) and senior QB Demetrius Washington (1,010 yards passing, 12 touchdowns). The Raptors’ defensive strength is in the backfield, where Gabe Stephens, Christian Hunter and Omari Philyaw all return. Mountain Island Charter has the experience to contend for a SPC 1A title and will have plenty of motivation going into the playoffs after a first-round loss to Swain County (13-6) ended its 2018 season.

NORTH GASTON

Head Coach: Mike Patton (9th year as North Gaston head coach).

2018 Record: 2-9 (0-7 in the Big South Conference).

2019 Conference: Big South Conference/3A.

Returning Starters: N/A.

Returning Letterman: N/A.

Key Returning Starters: Micah Crosby, Sr., FB/LB (5-10, 210); Trent Dixon, Sr., CB (5-11, 170); Justin Dunovant, Sr., OL/DL (5-10, 305); Waylin Webb, Jr., RB/LB (5-6, 170); Colby Pruitt, Sr., LB/RB (6-0, 165); Isaiah Gibson, Sr., OL (6-2, 260); Ian McFadden, Jr., RB/LB (5-8, 150); Wes Parker, Jr., QB/FS.

Key Newcomers: Antwoan Ottey, So., RB/LB (5-9, 160).

Outlook: North Gaston is 5-28 in the last three years, including a 2-9 campaign in 2018, where it lost their its eight games. This year, only eight starters returning. The Wildcats will look to senior FB Micah Crosby, junior QB Wes Parker and senior OL Isaiah Gibson (three-year starter) to spark an offense that averaged only 20 points per game last year. The North Gaston defense, led by senior DL Justin Dunovant, also needs to be better after giving up 39 points per contest last season.

SOUTH POINT

Head Coach: Adam Hodge (3rd Year as South Point head football coach; 16th year at South Point overall).

2018 Record: 9-4 (4-1 in the Southwestern 2A conference (SW2A)).

2019 Conference: SW2A conference

Returning Starters: 12

Returning Letterman: 20

Key Returning Starters: Naseem Jones, Sr., FB (6-0, 190); Ray Rose, Sr., WR (6-3, 210); Collin Owenby, Sr., OL (6-4, 200); Peyton Chaney, Sr., OL (6-5, 200); Omar Hunt, Jr., LB (6-0, 185); Devon King, Sr., DB (6-0, 190); Nick George, Sr., LB (6-1, 200); Jamarri Lewis, Sr., DB (5-11, 165); Ryan Harris, So., OLB (6-0, 180); Jamani Leeper, Sr., QB (5-10, 180).

Key Newcomers: N/A.

Outlook: South Point has averaged 11 wins per season in the last eight years, and expects to win every Friday night. This year, 12 starters are back, led by a veteran offensive that includes seniors Collin Owensby and Peyton Chaney and fullback Naseem Jones (1,589 yards rushing, 24 touchdowns). Add in senior WR Ray Rose (North Carolina commit, 27 catches, seven touchdowns last year) and South Point has an explosive offense to score with anyone. The Red Raiders’ defense should also be good with all-conference seniors in LB Omar Hunt (71 tackles) and DB Devon King (69 tackles) back. South Point should battle Shelby for the SW2A title, and is always a tough postseason matchup with its ability to run the ball, stop the run and control the clock.

STUART CRAMER

Head Coach: Ben McMillan (6th year as Stuart Cramer head coach, 29-31 at Stuart Cramer).

2018 Record: 7-5 (4-3 in the Big South Conference).

2019 Conference: Big South Conference/3AA.

Returning Starters: 11

Returning Letterman: N/A.

Key Returning Starters: Tyreese Morris, Sr., RB/DB (5-6, 155); Jaylin Truesdale, Sr., LB (5-8, 180); Carter Merrill, Sr., OL/DL (6-3, 215); Nathan Linkous, Jr., OL (6-5, 280); Jamarrio Springs, Sr., RB/DB (5-9, 165); Omar Cerna, Jr., DL (6-1, 320); DeAngelo Bruton, Sr., RB (5-9, 205).

Out for the season: Kendall Karr, Sr., TE/DE (6-4, 230).

Key Newcomers: N/A.

Outlook: Stuart Cramer has been on an impressive run with three straight winning seasons, earning 22 wins in that span. This year, the Storm will again look to run the ball early and often with seniors RBs Tyreese Morris (1,412 yards rushing, 12 touchdowns), DeAngelo Bruton and Jamarrio Springs running behind a veteran offensive line led by junior Nathan Linkous. The Stuart Cramer defense should also be strong led by senior LB Jaylin Truesdale (90 tackles, four interceptions, three forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries), a game-changer who makes plays all over the field. The Storm will miss University of North Carolina-bound TE, Kendall Karr, who will miss the season with a torn ACL. But expect Stuart Cramer to be right in the middle of the Big South conference standings and back in the playoffs for the fourth straight season, where their run-heavy style can make them a tough postseason matchup.

Gaston County conference predictions

Big South Conference

  1. Kings Mountain; 2. Hunter Huss; 3. Crest; 4. Ashbrook; 5. Stuart Cramer; 6. Forestview; 7. North Gaston.

South Piedmont 1A Conference (SPC 1A)

  1. Thomas Jefferson Academy; 2. Mountain Island Charter; 3. Bessemer City; 4. Community School of Davidson; 5. Cherryville; 6. Pine Lake Prep; 7. Union Academy; 8. Highland Tech; 9. Christ the King.

Southwestern 2A

  1. Shelby; 2. South Point; 3. Burns; 4. East Rutherford; 5. R.S. Central; 6. Chase; 7 East Gaston.
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