The publication “Friday Night Football Carolinas” ranks the top 50 players in the state.
It’s no surprise that six of those 50, all defensive back/wide receiver types, come from the powerful 4A MECKA Conference in which A.L. Brown plays. Four are from Hough, while two are from Mallard Creek, which is close to a unanimous pick to repeat last season’s 4AA title.
Five of those six are big-time verbal commitments, with the players bound for South Carolina, Clemson, UNC and N.C. State.
What may surprise you, however, is that the two highest-ranked players in the state in the preseason are both from the 4A Central Piedmont Conference, the league in which Davie competes.
North Davidson’s Shy Tuttle and West Forsyth’s Jalen Dalton, a pair of imposing defensive linemen are ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively.
When you move on to the FNFC list of the state’s top 30 juniors, you’ve got two more from the MECKA, and you’ve also got four more from the CPC, including Davie running back Cade Carney.
The MECKA guys are Mallard Creek’s Josh Brown and Hough’s Marquill Osborne, while the other CPC guys are Mount Tabor’s Divine Deablo (who will make every all-name team), West Forsyth’s Darion Slade and North Davidson’s Kennedy McKoy.
The 3A South Piedmont Conference is acknowledged as a very good league, and it should be. After all, either West Rowan or Concord has played in the last six 3A state championship games.
Still, only one SPC player — that’s Concord running back Rocky Reid — can be found on those two lists of the state’s top 50 and the top 30 juniors.
There’s also one 2A Central Carolina Confernce player on the top-50 list — Thomasville’s Akeem Davis, a DB who checks in at No. 44.
In other words, 4A is a different animal from the other classifications when it comes to sheer talent and sheer numbers.
As one Rowan coach said recently, “When you’ve got 130 players, you’re gonna be able to find 23 who can play.”
The bottom line is that A.L. Brown and Davie are going to have good teams, maybe very good teams, but the Wonders appear to be fighting for third in the MECKA, while Davie is probably going to be scrapping for fourth or fifth in the CPC. The CPC doesn’t have a superpower like Mallard Creek or Hough but it does boast a host of good teams.
In the South Piedmont, Reid and Concord are still the kings until someone proves otherwise.
West Rowan and Carson have a chance to challenge for the top spot, and Central Cabarrus, despite losing its dynamic offensive players, can’t be counted out.
In the Central Carolina Conference, if you ask 100 people, all 100 will tell you that North Rowan will repeat as champion. But look for the Cavaliers to be challenged more than they were last year when they steamrolled the league and won every game by at least 20.
That’s because Thomasville, Lexington and Salisbury all have to be better than they were a year ago.
Predicting the order of finish in conference races is a hopeless task, but we’ll take a shot.
2A Central Carolina
1. North Rowan, 2. Thomasville, 3. Lexington, 4. Salisbury, 5. East Davidson, 6. West Davidson
North Rowan (13-1, 5-0) lost really good players, especially on defense, but it justifiably enters the season ranked second to Shelby in 2A by FNFC and fourth by North Carolina Prep Football News.
North running back Jareke Chambers is on the FNFC preseason 2A All-State team and he’s predicted by NCPFN to be the CCC Player of the Year.
The only question for North, which could have a fantastic defensive secondary, is an offensive line with five new faces, but that’s head coach Joe Nixon’s specific area of expertise.
Wes Mattera is the new coach at Thomasville (5-7, 4-1), replacing four-time state champ Allen Brown.
Mattera, who came from Edenton, is expected to open things up with a spread offense.
Both North and Thomasville play 4A Davie early. Those games will offer clues as to whether Thomasville has closed the gap any on the Cavaliers. North destroyed the Bulldogs 40-0 last season.
Lexington (1-10, 1-4) looks much stronger on paper, loaded with skill-position guys and finally with some coaching stability, but the Yellow Jackets, like Salisbury (2-9, 2-3), have a very difficult non-conference schedule that could leave some psychological as well as physical bruises.
It won’t be a shock if Salisbury (can beat Lexington again to pull out third place. The Hornets haven’t lost to Lexington since 2002.
East Davidson (9-3, 3-2) lost its offensive playmakers from a banner season, but it returns a number of stout linemen and most of its defense. The Golden Eagles, who beat Salisbury 33-32 last year, could be in the fight for third place.
West Davidson (4-7, 0-5) didn’t win a CCC game in 2013, but it could break through against someone this time.
Kyle Smith, a 1,000-yard rusher, should be one of the league’s top players.
3A South Piedmont
1. Concord, 2. West Rowan, 3. Carson, 4. Central Cabarrus, 5. Hickory Ridge, 6. East Rowan, 7. NW Cabarrus, 8. Cox Mill, 9. South Rowan
3A state runner-up Concord (15-1, 8-0) has most of its offense back, including Reid, a Tennessee commit who rushed for 3,300 yards and scored 39 touchdowns.
The Spiders are powered by Reid, but QB Keenan Black also is outstanding.
Concord does have to replace two standout linebackers, but 300-pound DL Dez Scott and safety Carter Mozingo are All-SPC type players.
West Rowan (6-6, 4-4) has huge linemen and is determined to prove last season’s underachieving, break-even struggle was an aberration not a trend.
Carson (7-5, 5-3) broke through for its first win against West in 2013 and could be tough to stop if new QB Andy Lear is as good as advertised. The Cougars have two of the county’s best running backs in Brandon Sloop and Darren Isom and its most underrated receiver in Brandon Huneycutt.
Central Cabarrus (11-2, 7-1) lost three awesome playmakers but it will still be good simply because coach Donnie Kiefer never has a bad team.
Central will be more defensive-minded this season and returns a lot of good defenders, including DB Lavon Hightower, who is on the NCPFN preseason 3A All-State team.
In Nate Mullen, Hickory Ridge (4-8, 3-5) might have the league’s second-best offensive player. He’s preseason 3A All-State on the NCPFN team and the FNFC team.
Hickory Ridge also has a strong secondary.
East Rowan (4-8, 3-5) has a new coach in Kenneth McClamrock, but he can count on some veteran players and East has the pass-catch combination of Samuel and Seth Wyrick. While a lot of people are picking East eighth, the Mustangs, who have a defensive stud in linebacker Shiheem Saunders, should be better than that.
NW Cabarrus (6-6, 3-5) would be picked higher if it hadn’t lost senior QB Brandon White, who is now at A.L. Brown.
Junior Omar Kiser and senior Will Poole could be good players both ways for the Trojans.
The SPC standings were congested last season, especially the fight for fifth, sixth and seventh in the nine-team league.
Cox Mill (4-7, 3-5) was one of the two SPC teams that didn’t make the playoffs despite winning against West Rowan.
The critical loss was 21-20 to East Rowan on a blocked PAT.
QB Hunter Longmire returns to lead the Chargers’ prolific offense.
South Rowan (0-11, 0-8) has some veterans to build around and will be better, but the Raiders have a large gap to try to close on most of the teams in the league.
1. Mallard Creek, 2. Hough, 3. A.L. Brown, 4. Vance, 5. Hopewell, 6. West Charlotte, 7. North Meck, 8. Robinson
Mallard Creek (16-0), 7-0) is a genuine national power and has gone 54-4 the last four years.
Hough (10-2, 6-1) has a new coach (Miles Aldridge), but he’s inherited some of the state’s best defensive talent and probably the state’s best secondary.
A.L. Brown (7-5, 4-3) isn’t as talented as it is some years, but the Wonders still could finish as high as third. They are the epitomore of a well-coached team.
Vance (6-6, 3-4) is a potential monster and is now coached by former Mallard Creek assistant Aaron Brand, who will open up the offensive playbook.
Hopewell (6-6, 5-2) beat A.L. Brown and Vance last season, so it’s hard to pick the Titans fifth.
West Charlotte (0-11, 0-7) has athletes and could move up a few spots under new coach Mo Collins.
North Meck (4-7, 2-5) will be dangerous ,while Robinson (1-10, 1-6) is another team with a new coaches. Former Davie assistant Doug Smth is the new offensive coordinator.
4A Central Piedmont
1. West Forsyth, 2. North Davidson, 3. Mount Tabor, 4. Davie, 5. Reagan, 6. Reynolds, 7. Parkland
West Forsyth (12-2, 6-0) is the favorite after running the CPC table last season and might be one of the state’s best 10 or 15.
North Davidson (10-3, 4-2) and Mount Tabor (8-4, 4-2) appear neck-and-neck for second place again.
Davie (4-7, 2-4) could move up a spot or two this time, but it won’t be easy. Reagan (7-5, 4-2) has a great QB in Jake Easter and two 300-pounders in the trenches.
Reynolds (1-10, 1-5) has 23 seniors and will be more competitive than it was last season.
Parkland (0-11, 0-6) hasn’t won since the middle of the 2012 season.