The final two games of the 2014 high school football season left a bad taste with Mooresville’s Jamil Dukes.
The Blue Devils saw their undefeated regular season and a potential run through the state playoffs end over the eight-day span, and it still doesn’t sit well with Dukes or his teammates.
“I still haven’t gotten over that,” said Dukes, a senior defensive lineman. “That year was my best year in high school, and I thought we were better than our record was. This team, this year, we’ve got something to prove.”
Yet it will be a different Mooresville team – ranked No. 10 in the Observer’s preseason Sweet 16 poll – that will open its season Aug. 21 against former 3A state champion West Rowan.
Most of the skill players that carried the Blue Devils to a 10-2 record last season are gone. Among those who graduated are running back Akease Rankin, a Charlotte signee and Shrine Bowl pick who rushed for 1,543 yards and 23 touchdown; quarterback Tommy Bullock (1,154 yards passing, nine TDs; 776 yards rushing, 13 TDs), running back Manny Johnson (726 yards, 13 TDs), and top receiver Khadime Celestine (24 catches, 405 yards, seven TDs).
Back for Mooresville are 11 starters – five on offense, six on defense – and 30 seniors, a group that Blue Devils coach Hal Capps said is tighter than last year’s senior class.
“We had some great players, but they weren’t necessarily a ‘stick together’ type of group,” said Capps, who is 45-18 in five seasons at Mooresville. “This group is a bunch of good players that stick together and want to fight for each other.
“This group of seniors, the majority of them want to play college football, so their attitude is ‘the better the team, the better my chances of being seen.’ So they’re the ones pushing the others to do things right.”
The experience on Mooresville’s offense will come from its linemen, with four senior starters – 6-foot, 245-pound center Seth Bourke, guards Jason Martinez (6-3, 275) and Coleman Richard (6-4, 270), and 6-3, 290-pound tackle Daniel McArthur.
“Those four linemen are not only a year older, but stronger and faster,” Capps said. “Some of them have lost 20 or 30 pounds, which was a good thing. They replaced it with muscle and athleticism. Before, they were carrying too much weight. They were just big ol’ kids. Now, they’re athletes.”
On the defensive side, the Blue Devils are led by Dukes, last year’s North Piedmont 3A/4A defensive player of the year; junior cornerback Chris Ingram, who has verbally committed to N.C. State; and senior linebackers Jack Coughlin (77 tackles, five sacks) and Demitrius Spury (44 tackles, two sacks, one interception).
“I think we’re pretty equal this year,” said Dukes, who led the team with nine sacks last season. “The offense is doing really good – the whole line is solid, and big up front. We’re going at each other every day, making each other better.”
And trying to put the last two games of the 2014 season behind them.
“That still bothers me – a lot,” said Bourke, a four-year starter at Mooresville. “We were way better than that; we shouldn’t have lost those last two games at all.
“Overall, we’re going to be a better team. We may have had some better players last year, but we have guys this year who know what it takes.”