CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Most high school football programs can easily get motivated to start a new season because most end the year missing the playoffs or losing in post-season play.
Only a handful of teams in the state can win that final game, and Charlotte Country Day did exactly that last fall. The defending NCISAA 3A champions after a 45-17 win over Charlotte Latin, the goal now for the Buccaneers is to avoid complacency after their first title in six years.
“Any coach would say it’s harder to repeat than it is to get a championship,” head coach Bob Witman said. “That’s why they hire coaches, to get these kids motivated.
“I don’t see that yet—complacency—but I’ve seen it in years past.”
It will be the 30th year coaching for Witman, including his 22nd as head coach of CCDS. And every year the days and weeks leading up to the start of fall camp are the same.
“Any coach will tell you, this is the absolute worst time of the year,” Witman said. “You try to get things done but I have the same anxieties as I did 30 years ago. That has not changed in the 30 years I’ve been a head coach. It’s not until you start working 16 hours a day until you get into a rhythm.”
Good teams win battles in the trenches, and the Bucs have most of their big boys coming back.
Senior James Howe is only 6-0, but the senior was an all-state performer last fall and is being recruited by Ivy League schools to play in college. Bryan Duncan (6-5, 235) will start at tackle and defensive end and could join Howe at an Ivy League program next year.
Seniors Marcel Souffrant (6-3, 255), Will White (6-2, 210) and Martin Comer (5-8, 200) should add depth on the offensive and defensive lines.
“We have several linemen coming back,” Witman said. “But we lost most of our skill positions through graduation. It’s going to be kind of a see-who-steps-up deal on both sides of the ball.”
Most of the candidates are in the Bucs’ junior class. Junior Mike Radford (6-2, 180) was the backup quarterback last year to star Morgan Roberts, but the talented lacrosse player will take over the reins this fall.
“He has the tools to be very, very successful. He has speed. He has a strong arm,” Witman said. “It’s just a matter of the nuances of being a quarterback, which takes experience.”
One returner who should make an impact is senior Bryan Erb, who played both wide receiver and safety last fall. Junior Royce Turnbull (6-4, 200) will have some passes coming his way as well.
Witman has a running back-by-committee right now with seniors Tyler Byrd and William Roberts, as well as sophomore Michael Shields.
Defensively, returners Robert Engel (5-8, 170) at linebacker and junior Mac Clark (6-0, 160) at cornerback should provide a solid base to go along with the returning defensive line. The Buccaneers also return kicker Alex Gakenheimer and punter Ben Kepley from last fall.
CCDS’ schedule is back-heavy, with league games against Charlotte Christian, Providence Day and Charlotte Latin to close out the regular season. But an early September contest against Charlotte Catholic will be a good test for the defending state champs.
“The way our schedule falls into place, obviously our last three games…those are the ones that determine how we are seeded in the playoffs,” said Witman.
8/26 Carolina Pride
9/2 Charlotte Catholic
9/9 First Assembly (Concord)
10/1 Victory Christian
10/6 Q Foundation
10/14 Charlotte Christian
10/21 Providence Day
10/28 Charlotte Latin