Here are Rowan County high school football previews, as compiled by Observer correspondent Jay Edwards
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5 Rowan County Players To Watch
T’rell Baker, Salisbury, Sr., DB/WR: One of 13 starters returning for coach Brian Hinson, Baker was all-conference last season.
Mohammad Dolley, South Rowan, Sr, DE: Has good size (6-2, 215); had 67 tackles last season. Returns on defense with Patrick Long (79 tackles).
Justin Smith, East Rowan, QB, Jr.: Threw for nearly 1,000 yards, 12 TDs in ‘16
Payne Stallworth, West Rowan, QB, Jr.: threw for more than 2,600 yards for a 10-4 team in ‘16.
Jaleel Webster, North Rowan, RB, Sr.: Rushed for more than 1,500 yards last season.
Rowan County Team Previews
Head Coach: Joe Pinyan (5th year as Carson football coach; 22-25 at Carson; 122-61 overall).
2016 Record (Conference): 4-8 (3-6 in the South Piedmont conference).
2017 Conference: North Piedmont 3A conference (SPC).
Returning Starters: 6
Returning Lettermen: 15
Key Returning Starters: Cole Sifford, Sr., QB/RB (5-9, 165); Zain Tucker, Sr., LB (5-10, 180); Josh Malloy, Jr., DL (6-2, 260); Teolyn Woodruff, Jr., DL (6-2, 210); Jacob Taylor, Jr., FS (6-2, 175); Devin Gay, Sr., LB (5-10, 175).
Key Newcomers: Hunter Courtney, So., RB.
Outlook: After a 3-1 start, Carson lost seven of their final eight games to limp to a 4-8 finish. With only six starters back, life won’t get any easier for the Cougars as they transition from the SPC to the NPC, but senior QB, Cole Sifford, will try to help Carson contend in the NPC and into the 3A West playoff bracket.
Head Coach: John Fitz (1st year as East Rowan football coach).
2016 Record (Conference): 4-8 (3-6 in the South Piedmont conference (SPC)).
2017 Conference: North Piedmont conference (NPC)/3A.
Returning Starters: 15
Returning Lettermen: 12
Key Returning Starters: Christian Barnett, Jr., ILB (5-11, 210); Sam Wall, Jr. WR (5-10, 170); Justin Smith, Jr., QB (6-3, 175); Hunter Eagle, Jr., OLL (6-0, 235); Devin Cherry, Sr., DL (6-0, 230).
Key Newcomers: N/A.
Outlook: The Mustangs have struggled down the stretch last year, losing four of their final five games to finish 4-8. This season, they move from the SPC to the NPC, where they will look to players like juniors, QB Justin Smith (954 yards passing, 12 touchdowns) and WR Sam Wall (412 yards receiving, five touchdowns) to show they are capable of being a factor in the league race.
Head Coach: Ben Hampton (3rd year as North Rowan football coach; 6th year on North Rowan staff).
2016 Record (Conference): 11-3 (5-0 in the Central Carolinas
2017 Conference: Yadkin Valley Conference/1A.
Returning Starters: N/A.
Returning Lettermen: N/A.
Key Returning Starters: Jaleel Webster, Sr., RB (5-7, 170); Will Anthony, Sr., C (6-3, 255); Nautica Patterson, Jr., LB (6-0, 200); Darrin Williams, Sr., DE (6-3, 275); Matthew Hoosier, Sr., DE (6-3, 275).
Key Newcomers: Malcolm Wilson, So., RB (6-0, 185); Josh Mason, Jr., FB/DT (6-0, 220); Xavier Davis, Fr., RB/DB (5-7, 175).
Outlook: The Cavaliers made a huge jump last win going 11-3, winning the Central Carolinas’ conference and going to the 3rd round of the 2A state playoffs, after finishing 5-7 in 2015. This season, North Rowan expects to compete for a conference title in the Yadkin Valley conference with seniors in RB, Jaleel Webster (1,500 yards rushing), and offense-wrecker, DE Matthew Hoosier (70 tackles, 7.5 sacks) leading a veteran squad that should be a factor deep into the 1A state playoffs.
Head Coach: Brian Hinson (1st year as Salisbury football coach/17-19 overall).
2016 Record (Conference): 3-8 (2-3 in Central Carolinas).
2017 Conference: Central Carolinas
Returning Starters: 13
Returning Lettermen: 20
Key Returning Starters: Nick Austin, Sr., RB (5-11, 190); Tyvion Wood, Sr., CB/WR (5-11, 160); Rondarious Peele, Sr., OL (6-0, 290); John Pruitt, Sr., OL/DL (6-0, 285); T
Key Newcomers: Jabril Norman, So., LB (6-1, 180); Blaine Shellhorn, So., LB (6-0, 175); Tyrone Johnson, Jr., ATH (5-9, 150).
Outlook: Salisbury averaged 11 victories per season from 2009 to 2012, but has struggled since winning just 11 games in the last four years. However, with 13 starters led by all-conference senior DB/WR, T’rell Baker and Tyvion Wood, the Hornets have reasons to believe they can move back up the Central Carolinas’ conference standings and compete for a playoff berth.
Head Coach: Daniel Yow (3rd year as South Rowan football coach/2-20 at South Rowan).
2016 Record (Conference): 1-10 (1-7 in the South Piedmont conference (SPC)).
2017 Conference: Central Carolinas
Returning Starters: 13 (7 offense; 6 defense).
Returning Lettermen: 33
Key Returning Starters: Patrick Brooks, Sr., OL (6-2, 240); Marquis Rhyne, Sr., ATH (5-11, 190); Deavonne Harris, Sr., WR (6-3, 195); Mohammed Dolley, Sr., DE (6-2, 215); Patrick Long, Sr., LB (5-10, 185).
Key Newcomers: Demarcus Blackwell, Jr., RB (5-8, 200); Michael Sloop, Jr., LB (5-10, 210).
Outlook: The Raiders have struggled mightily of late, winning five games in last four years. But this year, there are reasons for optimism as South Rowan returns 13 starters, led by seniors, OL Patrick Brooks, Marquis Rhyne (1,053 all-purpose yards, eight touchdowns), Deavonne Harris (847 yards receiving) on offense and classmates, DE Mohammed Dolley (67 tackles) and Patrick Long (79 tackles) on defense. Finishing in the upper half of the Central Carolinas conference.
Head Coach: Joe Nixon (3rd year as West Rowan football coach/51-16 overall)
2016 Record (Conference): 10-4 (7-2 in the South Piedmont conference (SPC))
2017 Conference: North Piedmont conference (NPC)/3A
Returning Starters: 9 (5 offense; 4 defense).
Returning Lettermen: 25
Key Returning Starters: Devin Turner, Sr., DL (6-0, 290); Brandon Wallace, Sr., DB (5-8, 165); Payne Stallworth, Jr., QB (6-3, 180); Dawson Sheesley, Jr., OL (6-0, 275); Martavio Rankin, Sr., RB (5-9, 205).
Key Newcomers: Jalen Hudson, So., RB/WR (5-7, 165).
Outlook: The Falcons posted back-to-back 10 win seasons, and return to the North Piedmont conference (NPC), where they enjoyed a lot of success over the years, including three state championships (2008, 2009, 2010) while in the league. This year, West Rowan has the playmakers on both sides of the ball, led by QB Payne Stallworth (2,600 yards passing) and DL, Devin Turner, to be a NPC and state contender, again.