High school football season officially begins Monday with the first official day of practice. Opening night kickoff is less than three weeks away.
Here are 10 burning questions about the season ahead.
1. Can Mallard Creek make history?
The Mavericks have won three straight N.C. 4AA state championships. Independence won seven in a row from 2000-06. The Patriots are the only N.C. team to win four or more straight titles in the state’s largest classification. So Mallard Creek has a chance at history this year.
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The Mavericks return 10 starters and begin the season ranked in the top 10 of several national polls. They also have a large contingent of college commitments, including linemen Grant Gibson (N.C. State), Eric Douglas (South Carolina), receiver Ryan Jones (North Carolina) and defensive back Jacobe Clement (N.C. State).
2. Who are the other state title favorites?
In 1A, Wallace Rose-Hill, Tarboro, West Montgomery and Murphy. In 2A, Shelby, Monroe, Clinton and Reidsville (with Lincolnton as a darkhorse); In 3A, Crest and Havelock and Rocky Mount and South Point (Concord as a darkhorse). In 4A, Scotland, Greensboro Dudley, Butler, East Forsyth and Charlotte Catholic.
3. Will private schools be strong again?
Private school football has improved greatly in recent years. Top private school teams like Charlotte Christian, Davidson Day and Charlotte Latin have competed favorably with top-tier public schools. Davidson Day – where senior LB Chase Monroe and junior QB Sam Hartman have committed to Wake Forest – looks like the Division I state title favorite, but Christian and Latin will challenge for the state title.
4. Who is the best player who is not a household name yet?
East Mecklenburg junior Khamal Howard is a 5-foot-11, 192-pound junior with 4.65 40-yard dash speed. Last season, he was named offensive player of the year in the ultra-competitive Southwestern 4A. Howard ran for more than 1,200 yards last season.
5. What are can’t-miss games for opening night?
Well, opening night is actually opening weekend. A.L. Brown visits Concord on Thursday, Aug. 18 to renew one of the nation’s longest rivalries. On Aug. 19, Independence and new coach Scott Young visit Dutch Fork (S.C.) and old Independence coach Tom Knotts. Same night, Mallard Creek visits S.C. state champion Dillon. On Saturday, there’s a tripleheader at Memorial Stadium – Providence playing Charlotte Latin at 2 p.m. and Country Day playing Myers Park at 5 p.m. in a pair of games matching public and private school teams. Then, at 8 p.m., private school state title contender Charlotte Christian faces public school N.C. 4A champion Charlotte Catholic.
6. What are other key dates to watch for?
N.C. public school football playoffs begin Nov. 11 with state finals Dec. 9-10. N.C. private school playoffs begin Nov. 4. The Division I finals are Nov. 11. The Division II and III final are Nov. 18.
7. Mecklenburg County football has been dominant in recent years. Is that going to change anytime soon?
Doesn’t appear so. The talent pool, coaches report, is getting deeper. Since 2000, and Independence High’s emergence under quarterback Chris Leak, Mecklenburg County has dominated the highest level of football in the state. Last season, Charlotte Catholic won a 4A state title, and Mallard Creek won in 4AA. Davidson Day won in the top private division. We wouldn’t be surprised to see similar success in 2016 with area teams like Monroe, Concord, and Shelby and South Point challenging in smaller classifications, too.
8. When will the Observer debut its preseason Sweet 16 poll?
The newspaper will begin a countdown this week with stories on each of the ranked teams.
9. With hot weather forecast this week, what can we do to keep players safe in the opening days?
Forecasts in Charlotte call for highs in the 90s all week. The N.C. High School Athletic Associations asks schools to workout during the cooler parts of the day, to limit early season practice time and to allow for plenty of water breaks. It notes the “vast majority” of serious heat illness occurs in the first week of practice.
10. Are there many new coaches in the area?
A bunch. Berry (Travis Witherspoon); Cherryville (Tim Pruitt); Forest Hills (Cory Smith); Garinger (Melvin Peterson); Hickory Ridge (Jason Seidel); Highland Tech (Darren Shepherd); Hopewell (Brian Hurlocker); Independence (Scott Young); Mooresville (Marty Paxton); North Iredell (David Lewis); Northwest Cabarrus (Brandon Gentry); Porter Ridge (Mike Hertz); West Mecklenburg (Jarvis Davis).