Ardrey Kell High football coach Joe Evans has had a good feeling about junior quarterback Luke Hefferly for several months now. He likes how Hefferly doesn’t get too rushed or too excited and how well Hefferly manages his offense.
But as the Knights began playing 7-on-7 tournaments this summer, college coaches began to tell Evans the same thing, and so did former Independence High coach Tom Knotts, who has coached some of Charlotte’s greatest quarterbacks, including former Independence stars Chris Leak and Joe Cox and West Charlotte’s David Green and Keith Matkins.
That was when Evans began thinking he had a player who could help improve on last season’s 7-6 record and second-round N.C. 4AA playoff appearance.
“We were at Campbell for team camp and he made three or four throws and the Campbell offensive coordinator came over and asked about him,” Evans said. “Coach Knotts was impressed with him at a 7-on-7, and he doesn’t go around giving out too many compliments. You start thinking, ‘Hey, we may have something here.’ ”
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Hefferly, 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds, will make his first varsity start this month after throwing for more than 2,000 yards on junior varsity last season. He will lead a Knights team that begins the season ranked in the Charlotte Observer’s preseason Sweet 16 poll. With 12 returning starters, including all three linebackers and all five offensive linemen, Ardrey Kell has high hopes for the 2016 season.
Hefferly knows perhaps the biggest key to the team’s success will be at quarterback, where he will replace two-year starter Bryce Maginley, a former SoMeck 8 Offensive Player of the Year. Maginley threw for 1,784 yards and 17 touchdowns as a senior last season. He ran for 1,115 yards and 14 scores.
“It’s definitely a lot (of pressure),” said Hefferly, who will turn 17 next month. “But I feel prepared. I have a year under Bryce’s wing, learning from him and seeing how he led the offense and ran the show. And I feel I’m ready for the season. I’m not nervous. I’m loose.”
Evans said Hefferly is a high academic student-athlete, ranking in the top 10 percent of his class.
“They call him ‘Cool Hand Luke,’ ” Evans said. “He never gets rattled or too down. Just a great kid. He’s really picked up the offense. I called all the plays on JV last year and he threw for more than 2,000 yards, putting it all over the place.”
Evans said Hefferly has talent around him. Senior linebackers Jackson Sinclair (Army, Elon) and Justin Lawson (Elon) have Division I scholarship offers. Senior linebacker Cameron Bauer is scheduled to visit Columbia.
On offense, besides the line returning in tact, Evans says he has a star-in-the-making in 6-1, 175-pound senior wide receiver Jaylen Erwin. He said 6-foot, 185-pound senior Merrick Haston is a running back drawing college interest, too.
“I think we’ve got the parts, the pieces to be really good, but we’ve got some question marks,” Evans said. “We have a big test against Weddington (season-opener Aug. 19) to see where we are.
“We’ll be a different looking team, more diverse running and passing. Last year, we relied of Bryce to get just out of some big jams, but we’ve got some guys we can rely on offensively to make plays. And I think Luke is one of them.”
Hefferly said he won’t be the running quarterback Maginley was, but with help from teammates he believes he can have successful seasons similar to his predecessor.
“I’m very confident in our team this year,” he said. “We’re in a good place to have a great season. No matter what anyone says, I think we’re ready.”
Wertz: 704-358-5133; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr
Observer Sweet 16: Ardrey Kell Knights
The Observer begins previews of teams in its annual preseason Sweet 16 high school football preseason poll. The teams will be revealed in alphabetical order. The full poll, with numerical order, will be released next week.
Head coach: Joe Evans (second year as Ardrey Kell coach; 27-12 overall)
2015 record: 7-6 (4-3 in the MECKA 4A conference)
Key returning starters: Jon Rowe, Sr., OL/DL (6-3, 285); Jaylen Erwin, Sr., WR/DB (6-1, 175); Jackson Sinclair, Sr., TE/LB (6-2, 225); Grant Pease, Jr., OL (6-4, 235); Merrick Haston, Sr., RB/CB (6-0, 185); Nicco Crew, Jr., RB/LB (5-11, 200); Justin Lawson, Sr., RB/LB (6-3, 230); Josh Ausberry, Sr., DT/TE (6-2, 220).
Key newcomers: Luke Hefferly, Jr., QB (6-3, 185); J.J. Skinner, Jr., WR (5-10, 180); John Fierick, Jr., LB/S (5-11, 210).
Returning starters: 12
Returning lettermen: 20
Outlook: Ardrey Kell has proven it can hang with best of the SoMeck8 Conference, but is still chasing Charlotte Catholic for the top spot. The Knights will need junior quarterback Luke Hefferly to prove he can run the offense with experienced playmakers and offensive line.