Charlotte Christian is 32-4 the past three seasons and has won three straight N.C. Independent Schools football championships. The Knights, however, lost 11 seniors from the 2014 champs and seven of them are playing college football.
The 2015 Knights are young. Freshman Garrett Shrader and Jack Cherry, a sophomore, are battling for the starting quarterback job, for example, and senior Elijah Deveaux will run behind an offensive line that returns one starter.
So there are a lot of new faces on coach Jason Estep’s team.
The expectations, though, are the same.
“I believe in our coaches and our players,” Estep said at practice Tuesday morning. “The kids out here who have played in our system have only won here. Our middle school teams win the majority of their games. We’re starting to build the program the way we want and change the mentality around here, to where they expect to win every Thursday and Friday.”
Estep has seen his team win 24 straight games against private schools, a streak that dates to September 2012. But like last year – when the Knights began the season against national heavyweight Mallard Creek – he’ll challenge his team with a brutal schedule.
Charlotte Christian will play four state powers that reached at least the quarterfinal round in the public school playoffs last season. The Knights will start the season Aug. 21 against 2014 N.C. 4A finalist Charlotte Catholic. The next three weeks will feature games at S.C. 3A quarterfinalist Myrtle Beach, N.C. 3AA finalist Weddington and N.C. 4A semifinalist Wilmington Hoggard.
“I’m not saying it’s not going to be hard,” Estep said. “I know the other teams will be good, but we’ll stick the blueprint we’ve always done. I’m not scheduling games to pad my won-loss record. That’s not what I’m here for. I’m here to help these kids be successful.”
Estep has about 90 players on junior varsity and varsity, or nearly half the boys in the high school at Charlotte Christian. The Knights have plenty of size and a defense that Estep feels will be dominant.
On offense, Deveaux will be asked to lead a young group. He said he’s up to the challenge.
“Yes, we’re young up front, but we have 14 seniors on this team,” he said. “Guys who have been in the program, won state championships, and we’re trying to instill that in our young guys so they will fall in line. It’s a failure if we don’t win a state championship. That’s how we look at it. If we don’t come out of the season with a ring, then we didn’t work hard enough so that’s what we’re aiming for.”
Deveaux said Charlotte Christian’s approach to 2015 won’t be any different than it was in 2014.
“Nothing’s going to change,” he said. “I’m going to do all I have to do and I know (my teammates) are going to take care of their business. It’s no different. We’re going to keep hitting dudes in the mouth. That’s what we do.”
Like his star player, Estep thinks a fourth state title is a reachable goal.
“If we stay healthy,” he said, “we’re going to be successful. I would be surprised if we don’t compete for (a state title) this year. That’s why we’re out here teaching and trying to make every single kid in our program be ready to play. We may not have the horses we’ve had in our program right now, but, man, we’re coming.”
Wertz: 704-358-5133; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr