1Mallard Creek Mavericks (4A, 15-1): On pa- per, it looks like back-to-back 4AA champ
Mallard Creek graduated too many players
( 26) to have a shot at three in a row. But the
same was said last year. The program is deep
and talented, led by Florida State commit Josh
Brown at defensive end.
2Wake Forest Cougars (4A, 15-1): Last year’s 4AA title loss to Mallard Creek
seems to have finally earned Wake Forest
some statewide respect. The Cougars are a
true smash-mouth team, and nobody smashes
like defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence, arguably the nation’s best at his position.
3Charlotte Catholic Cougars (4A, 14-2): For five straight seasons, the Cougars
have been one of the state’s last four teams
standing. Last year was Charlotte Catholic’s
second in the 4A classification and it led to a
state championship berth. Jaret Anderson, a
senior, ran for more than 2,000 yards.
4New Bern Bears (4A, 16-0): No team scored more than 21 points on New Bern last year.
The good news for opponents is that nine of the top
10 tacklers are gone. But still be advised: Throwing
at defensive back Tyric McCarter is a bad idea.
5Northern Guilford Nighthawks (3A, 15-1): Now here’s an impressive stat: In its six
years of varsity play, the reigning 3AA champion Nighthawks are 92-10. North Guilford has
won either a conference title or a state title, or
both, in every year but its first (2008). Running
back C.J. Freeman, a South Carolina recruit, is
the man to watch this season.
6Scotland County Scots (4A, 12-2): Having to adjust expectations after losing quarterback
Jaylend Ratliffe before last season began, the
Scots persevered. The payoff could come this
year as sophomore running back Zamir White is
already getting national recruiting attention.
7Vance Cougars (4A, 11-4): Vance was never out of any game last year, including a 42-37
loss to Richmond County, a 29-22 loss to Mallard
Creek and a 35-34 loss to Charlotte Catholic. A
few more breaks could lead to a breakthrough.
8Hough Huskies (4A, 10-4): Hough has only had five football seasons and won 29
10 Independence Patriots (4A, 12-1): The Patriots looked like the best team in the
games in its last three. Last year’s team had
supreme talent, but this year’s isn’t bad with
defensive back Marquill Osborne and wide
receiver Corey Sutton leading the way.
9Lake Norman Wildcats (4A, 13-2): N.C. Gatorade Player of the Year Josh Ladowski
(more than 5,600 yards of total offense) is ir-
replaceable, but there’s no doubt the program
is rolling. Defense will be this year’s strength.
state with seven shutouts, but were shocked in
the second round of the 4AA playoffs by Hough
42-29. Independence’s first conference title since
2008 hints that the good ol’ days may be back.
However, coach Joe Evans left for Ardrey Kell.
11 Butler Bulldogs (4A, 10-3): The only team to beat 4AA champ Mallard Creek
got walloped 56-14 by those same Mavericks in
the second round of the playoffs. Butler’s other
two losses came by a combined seven points.
12 Crest Chargers (3A, 16-0): The 3A champions return a majority of last year’s
roster, but lose coach Mark Barnes. Star running
back Tre Harbison makes the Chargers go.
13 East Lincoln Mustangs (2A, 16-0): East Lincoln went 16-0 for the second time in
three seasons and UNC recruit Chazz Surratt, who
accounted for more than 5,000 yards of offense
by himself, will try to make it three for four.
14 Pinecrest Patriots (4A 10-3): Pinecrest’s regular-season losses to conference foes
Scotland County and Richmond County were
by seven points each. Clemson commit Sean
Pollard paves the way for the rushing offense.
15 Richmond County Raiders (4A, 11-2): As much as Richmond is a traditional
powerhouse, losing coach Paul Hoggard to tiny
John A. Holmes High in Edenton is a blow. The
Raiders hired Middle Creek’s Mike Castellano
( 32-8 in three years) as coach in May.
16 Havelock Rams (3A, 14-2): Havelock was stellar again last year and enters this
season with one of the best linebackers in the
nation in Keion Joyner. Also keep an eye on wide
receiver Kyran Bowman, a North Carolina recruit.
17 Garner Trojans (4A, 13-2): Nyheim Hines is gone to N.C. State, but when
is the last time the Trojans had trouble running
the ball? The 4AA East runners-up are led by
defensive tackle Matthew Butler.
18 Cuthbertson Cavaliers (3A, 11-4): Cuthbertson had never won more than
six games in a season, but star quarterback
Austin Kendall, an Oklahoma recruit, came in and
reversed fortune in a big way. Located just six miles
from Weddington, the Cavs won the regular-season
showdown but lost the 3AA West regional final.
19 Southern Durham Spartans (3A, 13-1): The school’s most successful
senior class – that went 27-3 over the last two
years – exits, leaving some question marks. But
Southern always has speed ready to fill the void.
Running back Jordon Brown will be relied on
20 Weddington Warriors (3A, 14-2): The 3AA state runner-up might be better
this year defensively, which will help offset some
losses on offense. Joey Hobbs had 140 tackles.
21 Shelby Golden Lions (2A, 14-2): Sure, there are some holes to fill for the 2A
champs. But Shelby’s top tackler a season
ago was Dax Hollifield, now a sophomore, and
Jayden Borders is a 1,000-yard receiver.
22 Charlotte Christian Knights (NCISAA, 10-1): It’s not typical to see a N.C.
Independent Schools Athletic Association
team ranked, but Charlotte Christian earned
its keep in a 28-21 loss to Mallard Creek and
an NCISAA Division I crown. Running back
Elijah Deveaux is a Duke commit.
23 Wallace-Rose Hill Bulldogs (1A, 15-1): The 1AA champions have every
right to expect another title. They return three
runners with 800 or more yards and most of
the defense. There’s talent here to give any 4A
team a good game.
24 Ardrey Kell (4A, 9-4): The Knights have lots of senior talent and the arrival of
Joe Evans from Independence makes them
a dark horse in Charlotte. Keep an eye on
linebacker Julian Okwara, a Notre Dame commit.
25 Freedom Patriots (3A 10-1-1): Freedom had not allowed more than
19 points in the regular season, holding teams
to just 8. 5 per, when it was stunned 50-49 by
East Rowan in the first round of the playoffs.
That motivation will only help Georgia commit
B.J. Emmons, a running back, and others.
NORTH CAROLINA HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL