Believe it or not, high school football — sure football — kicks off in February.
On Friday, public colleges groups within the Triangle and all through North Carolina will start their 2020, er, 2021 season. And football gamers can be very busy.
The “spring” 2021 season begins Friday and ends April 26. Players gained’t have a lot of a break earlier than the “regular” 2021 season kicks off in August.
And this spring groups will play a shortened seven sport season with a four-week playoff, one shorter than traditional. Every sport will tackle a heightened which means.
Here is our preview for the season.
2021 Spring Preview
You’ve heard this all earlier than.
Cardinal Gibbons, Leesville Road, Wake Forest, Panther Creek, Southern Durham, Cleveland and Princeton — they’re the favorites.
But the high school football season that begins subsequent Friday evening will look so much completely different from any that has preceded it.
First, there’s the plain. It’s football in late winter and spring — the results of the COVID-19 pandemic. The N.C. High School Athletic Association squeezed football right into a time of yr normally occupied by basketball after which spring sports activities.
So groups will play solely seven regular-season video games, at most.
Schedules are prone to be fluid, with some video games possible being postponed as groups take care of COVID protocols. Late final week, the Sandhills 4A Conference moved the annual Richmond Senior-Scotland County sport from the tip of the season to the opener. A day later, the sport was postponed after Scotland County’s program encountered COVID points.
When requested concerning the prime gamers in his school’s league, Orange head coach Van Smith mentioned, “I have no idea. I hear some players have graduated early and enrolled in college, some are ineligible, and some are sitting out due to COVID.”
Smith mentioned three groups within the Big 8 3A Conference don’t have sufficient gamers to discipline junior varsity groups this season.
Indeed, a number of of the gamers who would have commanded headlines on the sector this spring at the moment are enrolled in school.
But throughout the Triangle and the remainder of North Carolina, coaches and gamers say they’ll take care of all of the obstacles, in hope of finishing a football season.
“We’re trying to get back to some form of normalcy,” Orange’s Smith mentioned.
So right here’s a have a look at an irregular season that gamers and coaches hope will prove considerably regular:
8 groups to look at
Cardinal Gibbons: The Crusaders got here three factors in need of successful the 4A state title in 2019 and have a loaded roster this season. We gained’t have to attend lengthy to see in the event that they’re championship materials once more (see “Games to Watch”).
Cleveland: The Rams had been 12-2 in 2019, they usually have 16 of twenty-two starters again. And coach Scott Riley is 62-20 in six years as head coach. Any questions?
Leesville Road: The Pride misplaced a lot of the leaders from the 2019 crew that reached the 4AA state finals, however a number of prime defenders return. Leesville Road figures to reload.
Northern Durham: John Hammett is 28-3 in three seasons because the Knights’ head coach, and he has greater than half his crew’s beginning positions coated by returnees.
Panther Creek: The Catamounts, with 12 starters again and a proficient senior class, are picked by most rival coaches to win the Triangle 4A.
Princeton: The Bulldogs have been a 1A energy in latest seasons however have solely six returning starters. Princeton is large, nevertheless, and search for coach Travis Gaster to have his crew in playoff form by late March.
Southern Durham: Coming off a 10-2 season and loaded with returnees, the Spartans determine to battle Northern Durham for the Big 8 3A crown.
Wake Forest: The Cougars had been hit exhausting by commencement, however who doesn’t assume they’ll be a contender because the season develops?
8 gamers to look at
Brock Biestek, Cardinal Gibbons (Sr., WR-RB, 6-2, 201): Biestek can play quite a lot of talent positions, has pace, and is a crew chief. He earned all-conference and all-area honors in 2019.
Cade Cunningham, Heritage (Sr. QB, 6-4, 210): A 3-sport standout, Cunningham has a robust arm, and coaches think about him a robust chief and a scholar of the sport. He and Will Hawkins might be a dynamic duo.
Jacob Gill, Cardinal Gibbons (Sr., WR, 6-0, 180): With blazing pace and good palms, Gill can be a key a part of the Crusader offense. He has presents from no less than three ACC colleges and several other different FBS packages. He was an all-state choose in 2019.
Omarion Hampton, Cleveland (Jr., RB-LB, 6-2, 218): Hampton was Greater Neuse 3A Player of the Year in 2019 after accounting for two,607 yards from scrimmage.
Ethan Harris, Rolesville (Sr., WR, 6-2, 195): Harris had 400 receiving yards as a junior in 2019. He is an Air Force commit.
Will Hawkins, Heritage (Jr., WR, 6-4, 200): A Vance County switch, Hawkins is a superb deep ball risk and is being closely recruited by colleges within the ACC, Conference USA and Sun Belt.
Kyle Ihle, Middle Creek (Sr., P-PK, 6-2, 200): Ihle is a dependable broad receiver, however he was signed by Randolph-Macon for his correct and powerful leg.
Omari Smith, Southern Durham (Sr., QB, 6-3, 195): He was an all-Big 8 3A choice in 2019 and is a candidate for the convention’s most respected participant award this season.
Rylan Vann, Cary (Jr., OL-DL, 6-2, 270): Vann was an all-conference choose as a sophomore in 2019 and has presents from a number of colleges, together with N.C. State and West Virginia.
Games to look at
Friday: Cardinal Gibbons at Leesville Road: How a few CAP 7 4A showdown on opening evening? A pair of 2019 state playoff finalists sq. off.
Friday: Northern Durham at Southern Durham: See above. Except this sport might decide the Big 8 3A title.
March 5: Wake Forest at Cardinal Gibbons: It’s the only real nonconference sport for every crew, matching a pair of perennial football powerhouses.
March 19: Cardinal Gibbons at Millbrook: If Leesville Road isn’t the Crusaders’ greatest CAP 7 4A problem, then Millbrook in all probability is.
March 19: Middle Creek at Holly Springs: It’s a part of an enormous March 19 schedule, with the highest two South Wake 4A groups assembly.
March 19: Panther Creek at Hillside: Hillside’s protection towards Panther Creek’s offense in a South Wake 4A showdown.
March 26: Wake Forest at Rolesville: Rolesville has a extra skilled crew, however by this level, a few of Wake Forest’s youthful gamers in all probability may have developed. It’s a premier sport within the North Athletic 4A.
March 26: Clayton at Cleveland: It’ll be homecoming for Cleveland and a battle of the Greater Neuse 3A’s prime groups.
April 2: Princeton at Lakewood: In 2019, Princeton beat Lakewood 42-0. This yr, these groups are thought-about prime contenders within the Carolina 1A.
A short have a look at convention races (not all coaches offered info):
CAP 7 4A
Broughton might be a shock crew, with standout receivers in Sutton Lasso, McAllum Wright, Winton Ash and Damian Ford.
With three of its prime 4 receivers again, Cardinal Gibbons may have an explosive offense. The protection consists of CB Malcolm Reid, who had two interceptions within the 2019 4A title sport; and LB Blake Cooling, an all-conference participant in 2019.
Leesville Road misplaced a lot of its 2019 offense, however the protection is robust behind LB Will Keever (52 tackles in 2019) and 6-6, 235-pound DE Beau Atkinson.
Ethan Lentz, a WR-DB who’s beginning for the fourth season and was all-conference the final two years, leads the way in which for Millbrook. Junior WR Wesley Grimes already has a number of Division 1 school presents.
Sanderson has eight returning starters on offense, with senior QB Jaxon Masterson vying for all-conference honors. Senior DT Jaquan Adams and senior DT-TE Will Thomas every weigh greater than 280 kilos and provides the Spartans energy on the road.
Prediction: 1. Cardinal Gibbons; 2. Leesville Road; 3. Millbrook; 4. Sanderson; 5. Broughton; 6. Southeast Raleigh; 7. Enloe.
Northern Athletic 4A
Heritage ought to fly behind senior QB Cade Cunningham and senior WR Jonah Portugal, who can also play at working again.
Rolesville can be sturdy behind junior QB Byrum Brown, who had 2,400 passing yards in 2019 as a sophomore. Senior DE Olu Adewumi, an all-conference choose in 2019, leads the protection.
Gone are stellar RB’s Elijah Hines and Maquel Haywood. But Wake Forest can be sturdy behind 5-10, 210-pound senior RB Christ Moore, who rushed for 772 yards in 2019. Junior LB Chris Allen (20 quarterback hurries), 6-4 and 260 kilos, is drawing Division 1 school curiosity.
Prediction: 1. Wake Forest; 2. Heritage; 3. Rolesville; 4. Wakefield; 5. Knightdale; 6. Corinth Holders.
South Wake Athletic 4A
Defense is also a power for Fuquay-Varina, with all-conference senior LB Connor Rosenblum (5-10, 205) main the way in which. Caden Castle, a junior QB, might want to develop rapidly.
Holly Springs may have a robust floor sport, with all-conference RB’s Derek Coombs (6-2, 205, senior) and Dylan Waskey (5-7, 175, senior). The protection ought to be distinctive, with newcomers like junior LB Seth Fowler and sophomore LB Chase Christopher.
Middle Creek’s power is on protection, with DL Quincy Pugh (6-3, 255-pound senior), DL Stephen Holland (6-2, 260-pound senior) and DL James Strohbusch (6-4, 245-pound junior). Only three starters return on offense.
South Garner was 1-10 in 2019, however coach Daniel Finn has 18 returning starters. QB Josh Gayton leads the school’s first senior class. Watch for sophomores Malachi Hardy (WR), Jordan Reid (RB) and Elijah Marshall (OL) to develop rapidly.
Prediction: 1. Holly Springs; 2. Garner; 3. Middle Creek; 4. South Garner; 5. Apex Friendship; 6. Fuquay-Varina; 7. Apex.
Athens Drive is coming off a 1-10 season however has 9 offensive and 6 defensive starters remaining. Coach Jeremy Fullbright has a robust and skilled offensive line with seniors Tyler Thomas, J.D. Sterling, Richie Doyle and Ben Chavis.
With Rylan Vann (6-2, 270), rated by one service because the No. 2 heart nationally, Cary has the makings of a robust line. Vann additionally performs protection on a unit that additionally consists of senior lineman Jonathan Matthews (6-1, 230) and senior CB Osiah Tryance (6-1, 195), each of whom have school presents.
Green Hope has the makings of a robust protection, led by senior S James McNear and senior LB Ben Hunt. Senior RB-LB Bibby Heron, a switch from Connecticut, leads the brand new faces.
Green Level has extra returning starters than anybody within the Triangle — 22. They are from the junior varsity crew that went 9-1 in 2019. The school is in its third yr and gained’t have a senior class till subsequent yr. Sophomore QB Carter Devereaux and junior RB Cam Chatmon lead the offense.
Hillside is one other doubtlessly sturdy defensive crew, with senior LB’s Tylil Alston and Jahvonta Young within the highlight. Coach Louis Harrison may have eight sophomores getting significantly taking part in time.
Jordan is inexperienced however has junior DE Vincent Anthony Jr. (6-3, 205), who has a number of Division 1 school presents. Anthony and DE Joshua Donald will anchor one other sturdy protection.
With Appalachian State commit Jonathan Streeter, a senior CB-WR, Panther Creek is taken into account by most coaches to be the convention favourite. All-state senior DE Jeff McKnight and N.C. State commit Chase Hatley, a 6-3, 205-pound senior CB, head one more robust protection. Scoring ought to be troublesome this season within the Triangle 8 4A.
Riverside might need the convention’s prime offense. First-year head coach Andre George has senior QB Landin Sledge, who has handed for greater than 3,700 yards, and a pair of explosive WR’s in Diamiri Martin and Elijah Fuller.
Prediction: 1. Panther Creek; 2. Riverside; 3. Green Hope; 4. Hillside; 5. Jordan; 6. Cary; 7. Athens Drive; 8. Green Level.
Big 8 3A
Cedar Ridge was 1-10 in 2019 and has simply 4 returning starters. Coach Cory Lea hopes to begin the constructing course of with linemen Jared Clayton, Ryan Long, Hunter Shingleton and James Laurisa.
Yale commit Declan Savage, a 6-5, 265-pound senior OL who is also a standout lacrosse participant, leads the way in which for Chapel Hill. Junior QB Caleb Kelley and WR’s Kameron Walker and Kyhlil Jones are the highest offensive threats.
Northern Durham might be very sturdy offensively, behind four-year starters Caleb Steele at WR and Jaylon Chestnut at RB. Senior QB Kyle Barnhill and senior TE Kris Herring add to the assault.
A 6-6, 220-pound senior, Nigel Slanker does so much for Orange. He performs QB and DB and is the kicker and punter. The Panthers wish to run the ball, so senior RB Zahmir Watkins is a key there.
Southern Durham can be large, quick and powerful, with QB Omari Smith main the way in which. The offensive line is exceptionally proficient, with junior Wayne Clayton (6-3, 265), junior Jorge Villareal (6-5, 270) and senior Kaleb Hill (6-0, 265) all drawing school recruiters’ consideration.
Prediction: 1. Southern Durham; 2. Northern Durham; 3. Northwood; 4. Chapel Hill; 5. Orange; 6. Cedar Ridge; 7. Vance County; 8. East Chapel Hill.
Greater Neuse 3A
Clayton solely has 5 returning starters, however the protection is robust. Senior LB’s Isaiah Mananga (Wofford commit), Amare Bryant (Gardner-Webb commit) and Eli Price (rugby decide to Army) ought to preserve the Comets in most video games.
With 16 returning starters from a 12-2 crew, life is sweet for Cleveland. Junior QB Skyler Locklear handed for two,625 yards and 35 touchdowns in 2019, and the protection consists of senior LB Hunter Morris, who had 129 tackles, 5 sacks and 5 compelled turnovers final season.
North Johnston coach Michael Barnett expects sophomores to carry down 10 of twenty-two beginning positions. Senior RB Cameron Privette is among the many few skilled gamers.
Another very younger crew is Smithfield-Selma, with junior QB George Brewer and sophomore DL Joshua Hightower anticipated to play key roles. Senior WR-DB Devon Roesch, 6-4 and 225 kilos, is a key participant.
South Johnston has versatile gamers in seniors Chase Carroll (6-3, 205) and Damonte Burgess (5-7, 185). Senior RB-S Kysheem Green is one other skilled chief.
Prediction: 1. Cleveland; 2. Clayton; 3. South Johnston; 4. West Johnston; 5. Smithfield-Selma; 6. East Wake.
Eastern Plains 2A
North Johnston continues to rebuild underneath second-year head coach Michael Barnette. A key participant this yr might be senior RB Camron Privette (5-8, 180), who had 4 100-yard speeding video games in 2019.
Prediction: 1. Beddingfield; 2. SouthWest Edgecombe; 3. Nash Central; 4. North Johnston; 5. North Pitt; 6. Farmville Central.
Princeton is coming off a 10-2 season and is a perennial 1A energy, however solely six starters return this season. Coach Travis Gaster says his crew might want to deal with nicely and drive some turnovers. Junior LB Paul Edens (6-0, 220) and defensive backs Harley Bartholomew (senior, 6-2, 190) and Jaydon Brooks (junior, 6-1, 195) will lead the protection.
Prediction: 1. Princeton; 2. Lakewood; 3. Rosewood; 4. North Duplin; 5. Rosewood; 6. Union; 7. Hobbton.
Steve Lyttle on Twitter: @slyttle