Crane Road is a tree-lined, two-lane thoroughfare that winds through the countryside of southwest Union County.
The roadway has become a familiar path for college football recruiters, who have made Marvin Ridge High a “must-see” stop the past 12 months.
The Mavericks have at least three major Division I college recruits on a team that could be among the state’s 3A elite.
“There are a lot of variables that go into a successful season, but yes, I’m very optimistic of where we could be,” said second-year Marvin Ridge coach Aubrey Carter, who left Lake Norman High last year after 12 seasons as an assistant.
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After posting records of 2-9 in 2013 and 3-9 in 2014, the Mavericks went 8-4 last season with a first-round playoff loss.
As for the team’s college prospects, one has ended the drama. Wide receiver Emeka Emezie, a 6-foot-3, 200-pound senior committed to N.C. State after being recruited by Boston College, Kentucky, Kansas, Miami, Wake Forest and West Virginia, among others.
That leaves senior offensive guard Dmitri Emmanuel and junior running back-linebacker Caleb Deveaux as targets of Division I coaches. And there are several others on Marvin Ridge’s roster who are luring recruiters to Crane Road.
“We’ve had a great turnout, and we have kids who have bought into the system,” Carter said. “We’re optimistic.”
He said the Southern Carolinas 3A Conference– which includes 2014 3AA playoff finalist Weddington is and Sun Valley’s high-powered offense – has plenty of hurdles. But the Mavericks seem poised for a big season.
And it doesn’t hurt that they have elite talent.
Emezie caught 69 passes for 1,101 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2015. He said the recruiting attention was never a distraction.
“I play because I love football, not because I was trying to get something,” he said. But, he added, “I can certainly concentrate on the team being successful this season.”
Emmanuel, who is 6-3 and 290 pounds, has drawn attention from Boston College, Charlotte, North Carolina, Old Dominion, Syracuse and Wake Forest, with other schools reportedly in the chase.
“I’m not really focused on making a choice,” he said. “I figure it’ll happen when it happens. When I decide, I’ll let everyone know. But I haven’t made the choice yet.”
Deveaux, 6-1 and 215 pounds, was a linebacker until the coaching staff tried him at running back as a sophomore. He responded by carrying the ball 193 times for 1,312 yards and 15 touchdowns. He will play both positions this year.
“I enjoy both positions,” he said. “I’ve worked hard to be in good shape this season. That’ll be important to keep me on the field a lot.”
Deveaux reportedly has an offer from Pittsburgh but is also on the radar of several other ACC and SEC schools. “I won’t be making a choice anytime soon,” he says.
The architect of Marvin Ridge’s offense is senior quarterback Austin Colonna, 5-11 and 185 pounds. He threw for 3,066 yards, with 24 touchdowns and 11 interceptions last season. Colonna completed about 70 percent of his passes.
“He had starting experience already as a freshman,” Carter says. “He’s a solid player.”
Deveaux, Emmanuel and Emezie say the Mavericks benefit from a good team atmosphere.
“A lot of us grew up together playing football,” Emezie said. “We’re good friends, and we hang out together.”
They said the legacy of state championships at Marvin Ridge – including 3A baseball titles in 2015 and ’16 – are motivation for the football team.
“You see all the state championships and want to add to it,” Deveaux said.
Said Emezie: “This is our time to win something big in football for our school.”
Observer Sweet 16: Marvin Ridge Mavericks
The Observer continues with previews of teams in its anual preseason Sweet 16 high school football poll. The teams will be revealed in alphabetical order. The poll, with numerical order, will be released following the previews.
Head coach: Aubrey Carter (Second season)
2015 record: 8-4 (5-0 in the Southern Carolinas 3A Conference)
Key returning starters: Emeka Emezie, Sr., WR (6-3, 200); D’Mitri Emmanuel, Sr., OL (6-3, 300); Caleb Deveaux, Jr., RB (6-0, 220); Austin Colonna, Sr., QB (5-11, 180); Alex Leshock, Sr., WR (6-1, 175); Ben Cook, Sr., S (5-11, 180); Cole Hopkins, Jr., DE (6-2, 215).
Key newcomers: Jacob Carroll, So., RB (5-9, 200); Myles Hunt, Jr., WR/DB (5-10, 160); Will Smith, So., LB (5-10, 190).
Returning starters: 15
Returning lettermen: 26
Outlook: In first season in charge, Marvin Ridge coach Aubrey Carter led Mavericks to SCC title. With 15 returning starters, led by an explosive offense triggered by senior quarterback Austin Colonna, Marvin Ridge is eager to prove it can win the league again and advnce deeper into the postseason.