Columns & Blogs

Optimism runs high at the start of the season

The 2008 high school football season kicks off Friday and, for me, it's a season of possibilities.

Independence is back for a run at a ninth straight trip to the state championship game, but these Patriots are little more vulnerable than previous editions. Independence is not as deep, or as big, as usual. But after losing in the state final last season, the Patriots should have their passion back.

In a scrimmage Tuesday with a Duncan Byrnes (S.C.) team ranked as high as No.2 in the national polls, the Patriots starters more than held their own on the road in front of 1,500 fans, going into halftime tied at 7. Byrnes was up 21-14 when the teams started subbing and the Rebels eventually won 31-14.

I think that's a result that should please Independence's players. It probably showed them that anything is possible this season. Even another state championship.

That feeling of possibility should run through a lot of area teams.

Albemarle lost a starter when Tevis Swaringen was killed in a car crash. His teammates say his spirit lives on through them. Albemarle was already a powerhouse team. Now it has a cause.

Also in Stanly County, South Stanly figures to be better than last year's 6-8 team. Twenty starters return, including a national recruit in defensive back Terry Shankle. South Stanly has been to the third round of the playoffs three straight years. Now, it has the team – and the star – to get past that.

In Cleveland County, Shelby goes for a fifth straight trip to the state championship. Same for Charlotte Catholic in Mecklenburg. The Golden Lions from Shelby have a Clemson-committed star in tailback Larry Raper and about five or six more college prospects.

Catholic is young with only seven starters back, but the Cougars' tradition is well established. Their middle school feeder program – rare in Charlotte – teaches that tradition and their Wing-T offense. The fans and players believe there is, and here's that word again, the possibility of a return to glory in 2008.

That same hope flows at South Mecklenburg, just across Park Road from Catholic's campus. Last year, the Sabres made the playoffs for the first time since 1994. Because of an ineligible player, the Sabres had to forfeit their season.

That's made 2008, for them, a simple thing: Win big. These Sabres are as talented as any team in town. I expect tailback Larry Kennedy III to be one of the breakout stars of the year.

In the private schools, three-time state champion Charlotte Latin lost of a lot of stars. Country Day looks strong, but if there was ever a year that teams like Charlotte Christian and Victory Christian had a real shot to kick the door down, this is it. It's possible.