CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It's been a long wait, but high school football is finally back in the Carolinas.
The return of Friday Night Frenzy
Fans of high school football are in for some changes when the season kicks off this season.
Offseason realignment brought significant changes to several conferences in the area, and a number of schools also changed classifications, which could totally change the landscape of high school football across North Carolina.
We’ll get things started with what’s changed for the three conferences that are home to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.
First, the South Meck 8 is now the South Meck 7 following the departure of Charlotte Catholic. The Cougars stepped down in classification this season and will play in the Southern Carolina 3A Conference with the likes of Weddington, Cuthbertson, Marvin Ridge, and Monroe, who moves up from the 2A ranks.
With Catholic’s departure, the league will see a new champion for the first time in a number of years. This opens the door for upstart West Mecklenburg, led by the dynamic Brown brothers Dyami and Khafre. The Harding Rams will also have an outside shot at the conference title, led by top-rated junior running back Quavaris Crouch.
Next up is the I-Meck 4A conference. This league, which was previously known as the Mecka, sees former teams Lake Norman and Mooresville rejoin the fold after a few years in the North Piedmont. They replace the outgoing AL Brown, which returns to 3A competition this season.
As has been the case over the last several seasons, the road to this conference title runs through Mike Palmieri and the Mallard Creek Mavericks. After a state championship three-peat, the Mavs fell to 9-4 last season and an early playoff exit. The game of the year in the league is again expected to be on September 22, when Mallard Creek makes the trip to Vance and battles the high-octane Cougars.
Finally, there’s the Southwestern 4A Conference, which has added a team from Cabarrus County in 2017. The Hickory Ridge Ragin’ Bulls make the leap from 3A to the state’s highest classification, giving the Southwestern eight teams.
After an 11-win campaign last year, Scott Chadwick and the Myers Park Mustangs will be looking to finally get over the hump and take down Butler for the conference crown. Brian Hales’ Bulldogs rolled to a dominating shutout win over Myers Park last year. The Bulldogs will replace a number of starters, but return starting running back Nijere Peoples.
The Top 17 Seniors for 2017
Meet the best players the Charlotte area has to offer
Derion Kendrick, South Pointe, Quarterback, Clemson
If the South Pointe Stallions are going to win a fourth straight state title, they’ll do it behind senior quarterback Derion Kendrick. The 6-foot-1 Kendrick is a four-star rated prospect by 247 Sports. He committed to play wide receiver at Clemson over offers from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Notre Dame, and more. Kendrick is the No. 1 rated player in South Carolina.
Dax Hollifield, Shelby, Linebacker, Undecided
Hollifield is one of three returning linebackers for Shelby in 2017. The All-State defender is being recruited by a number of high-profile programs, including Florida State, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia Tech, and Stanford.
Rick Sandidge, Concord, Defensive Tackle, Undecided
Sandidge will be one of the anchors for Glen Padgett’s Concord team. The four-star defensive tackle weighs in at nearly 300 pounds, and at 6-foot-5, has the frame to play at the next level. He’s currently considering scholarship offers from South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Penn State, Virginia Tech, and Michigan.
Dyami Brown, West Mecklenburg, Wide Receiver, North Carolina
Brown played a key role in helping West Meck win nine games last season. The dynamic receiver racked up over 1,400 all-purpose yards and scored 14 touchdowns last season and was a personal highlight reel. Brown is one of the highest-rated prospects in North Carolina and committed to play for Larry Fedora and the Tar Heels in April.
Jordan Davis, Mallard Creek, Defensive Tackle, Undecided
Davis is the latest in a long line of talented Mallard Creek linemen. The 6-foot-6, 300-pound defensive tackle is the No. 13 ranked player in North Carolina and has offers from several top college programs, including Clemson, Miami, North Carolina and NC State.
Jovaughn Gwyn, Harding, Offensive Guard, Undecided
Harding’s Quavaris Crouch usually garners the headlines, but big man Jovaughn Gwyn helps make it possible. The 300-pound senior paves the way for Harding’s offensive attack and is making his name known to scouts across the country. His scholarship offers include Texas A&M, Georgia Tech, Louisville, South Carolina, and more.
Justus Woods, Charlotte Christian, Running Back, Stanford
Woods tallied over 1,000 yards of total offense and 18 touchdowns in a season that was cut short by injury last year. In March, he committed to play at Stanford over offers from Duke, Northwestern, Vanderbilt, and more.
Jarett Garner, Hickory Ridge, Wide Receiver, Duke
As a junior, Garner caught 14 touchdowns. The Hickory Ridge receiver committed to Duke in June over offers from ACC programs North Carolina and Louisville, as well as offers from other schools across the Carolinas.
Jawan Tate, Mallard Creek, Offensive Tackle, Undecided
The Mallard Creek offense will rely on Tate’s ability to move defenders this season. The 6-foot-7 offensive tackle is interested in Clemson, Duke, East Carolina, and Wake Forest.
Damir Faison, Vance, Defensive End, Army West Point
The 240-pound edge rusher from Vance originally committed to Appalachian State before opening his options earlier this year. In July, Faison committed to West Point over scholarship offers from Maryland, East Carolina, and Colorado State.
DeMarkes Stradford, Charlotte Latin, Running Back, Harvard
Stradford helped lead Charlotte Latin to a state championship on the strength of 1,400 rushing yards and 18 scores last season. Stradford committed to Harvard this summer over offers from Virginia, as well as a number of Ivy League schools.
Elijah Brown, Providence Day, Defensive Tackle, Undecided
The 270-pound defensive tackle is a target for several ACC schools, including Duke, NC State, Louisville, and Wake Forest.
Steven Gilmore, South Pointe, Cornerback, Undecided
If the name Gilmore rings a bell, it should. Steven, the younger brother of former South Carolina standout Stephon, is a three-star rated cornerback for the Stallions. Gilmore told Yahoo’s Gamecock Central he plans to announce his college choice on his birthday, September 17. His final four are Georgia, South Carolina, Louisville, and North Carolina.
Eli Adams, South Pointe, Defensive End, Virginia Tech
Adams has established himself as one of the top pass rushers in the Palmetto State with 30 sacks over the last two years. After making several visits to Blacksburg, Adams settled on Virginia Tech over numerous offers from major programs.
Caleb Deveaux, Marvin Ridge, Running Back, Undecided
Deveaux is coming off a stellar season that saw him rush for 1,200 yards and 19 touchdowns. The Marvin Ridge senior is currently mulling offers from East Carolina, Pittsburgh (his father Glenn’s alma mater), and The Citadel. He’s the younger brother of Duke running back and Charlotte Christian graduate Elijah Deveaux.
Gerald Nathan Jr., Vance, Linebacker, Undecided
Nathan will head Vance’s defense as the Cougars look to make another deep run in the state playoffs. The 200-pound linebacker currently holds offers from East Carolina, Appalachian State, East Carolina, Charlotte, and others.
Malik Dunlap, Harding, Cornerback, NC State
Harding’s defense will count on NC State commit Malik Dunlap to slow down opponents this year. Dunlap committed to NC State over a scholarship offer from East Carolina and interest from several major programs. Dunlap is the older brother of Harding tailback Quavaris Crouch.
17 Must-see games in 2017
If you're looking for a Friday night destination, these are the games you have to see.
Northwestern Trojans at South Pointe Stallions — August 18
The South Pointe Stallions will begin their quest for a fourth straight state championship when they take on rival Northwestern on opening night. The last three meetings have been decided by a combined nine points. Northwestern holds a 7-6 edge over the last 13 meetings.
Charlotte Christian Knights at Charlotte Catholic Cougars — August 18
Another opening night showdown will showcase Charlotte Catholic hosting Justus Woods and the Knights of Charlotte Christian at Keffer Stadium. The Cougars, who are an impressive 45-4 over the last three years, moved to the 3A ranks this season and are hoping to avenge last season’s 20-13 loss to Christian.
Harding Rams at Hough Huskies — August 18
After making the playoffs for the first time since 2010, the Harding Rams have reason to be optimistic. Led by junior running back Quavaris Crouch, the top-rated running back in the class of 2019, Sam Greiner’s team is loaded with several D-1 prospects. Hough is led by senior running back Jarrett Nagy and over a dozen returning starters. First-year head coach Matt Jenkins will look to get the Huskies back to double-digit wins after a tumultuous 2016 campaign.
Vance Cougars vs West Mecklenburg Hawks — August 19, 2 p.m.
Completing the trifecta of must-see games on opening weekend is the Charlotte Kickoff tilt that will showcase Vance and West Meck. Aaron Brand has built the Vance Cougars into a force in the Mecka, battling with traditional powers across the state. They’ll take on the high-flying West Meck Hawks, led by UNC commit Dyami Brown and younger brother Khafre.
Butler Bulldogs at Mallard Creek Mavericks — August 25
This series has quickly become one of the premier matchups in Charlotte high school football. The Mavericks will be out for revenge after Butler ended their hopes of a fourth straight title in the second round of last year’s playoffs. Mammoth defensive tackle Jordan Davis anchors a defensive line that will challenge Butler standout tailback Nijere Peoples. Peoples rushed for over 1,300 yards and 28 touchdowns last year and will lead a Butler team that’s in a bit of a rebuild after graduating 27 seniors.
Crest Chargers at Shelby Golden Lions — September 8
When Shelby and Crest lock horns, it’s quintessential high school football. The last three meetings have each been settled by one score, including last year’s 21-19 Shelby win. The Golden Lions, led by standout linebacker Dax Hollifield, are looking for a fifth straight state title. Crest will look to get back into title contention after being eliminated in the second round of last year’s playoffs.
Mallard Creek Mavericks at Vance Cougars — September 22
The winner of the mid-September showdown between Mallard Creek and Vance will likely be the favorite to win the I-Meck crown. The Cougars topped the Creek for the first time in six meetings last year en route to an appearance in the state semifinals. Mike Palmieri’s team hasn’t lost back-to-back games to the same opponent since losing twice to Butler in 2012.
West Mecklenburg Hawks at Harding Rams — September 22
The scoreboard may get a workout when West Meck takes on Harding in a pivotal South Meck 7 battle. Last year, Harding won a thrilling 50-47 contest and with both teams having a plethora of skill position talent, expect another exciting battle.
Providence Day Chargers at Charlotte Latin Hawks — September 28
A late September Thursday night will feature one of the best private school matchups in the Charlotte area when Providence Day pays a visit to Charlotte Latin. The Chargers are led by Elijah Brown, who’s being recruited by a number of ACC teams. Brown and company will look to avenge last season’s loss in a series that’s favored Latin over the years.
Charlotte Catholic Cougars at Weddington Warriors — September 29
Charlotte Catholic is one of two teams to move into the new-look Southern Carolina 3A conference this season. The 2015 4A champions will visit defending 3AA Weddington on September 29 in the middle of a three-game stretch that could define Catholic’s season. The Cougars are 3-0 all-time against the Warriors. The schools last met in 2012.
Butler Bulldogs at Myers Park Mustangs — October 6
Myers Park tied a school record with 11 wins last year and Scott Chadwick’s Mustangs could be even better in 2017. In order to make that next step, they’ll be tasked with snapping a long losing streak to Butler. The Bulldogs have won the last 13, including a 53-0 win last season.
Sun Valley Spartans at Monroe Redhawks — October 13
If you like points, you’ll want to make the trip to Monroe when Sun Valley visits the Redhawks on October 13. Sensational quarterback Sam Howell led the Spartans to a 45-37 win last year, but 2017’s contest will have a little more on the line with Monroe joining the conference. Monroe running back McKinley Nelson rushed for over 1,200 yards and 18 scores last season.
Mooresville Blue Devils at Lake Norman Wildcats — October 13
Much like when Shelby and Crest get together, the annual battle of Mooresville always draws a crowd. Over the last eight meetings, the Wildcats and Blue Devils have four wins apiece with the last back-to-back wins in the series coming from Mooresville in 2010-11.
Charlotte Latin Hawks at Charlotte Christian Knights — October 20
Defending state champions Charlotte Latin will make the trip to Sardis Road for a title game rematch with Charlotte Christian. The Hawks feature running back and Harvard commit DeMarkes Stradford, who rushed for over 1,400 yards and 18 touchdowns last year. The Knights are led by junior quarterback Garrett Shrader, who is coming off a 29-touchdown season in 2016.
Marvin Ridge Mavericks at Sun Valley Spartans — October 27
Sun Valley snapped a two-game losing streak to the Mavericks last season. If the Spartans are going to make it two in a row, they’ll look to 6-foot-5 tight end Luke Burnette to move the chains. For Marvin Ridge, running back Caleb Deveaux will carry the load. He rushed for 19 touchdowns and well over 1,000 yards last season.
Nation Ford Falcons at Fort Mill Yellow Jackets — October 27
After losing the first six games in the series, Nation Ford has won three of four against crosstown rival Fort Mill. While this game may not have state championship aspirations on the line, it’ll be worth the price of admission to see the Falcons and Yellow Jackets duke it out in late October.
Concord Spiders at AL Brown Wonders — November 3
With AL Brown’s move to 3A and the South Piedmont Conference, the Battle for the Bell moves from the opener to the season finale for Concord and AL Brown. One of the state’s longest-run rivalries will again be a conference game when the Spiders and Wonders get together in November. Concord is led by highly recruited defensive lineman Rick Sandidge. AL Brown’s defensive line will be anchored by seniors Jeremy Davis and Najee Williams, who logged 10 sacks in 2016.
The next big thing: Harding's Quavaris Crouch
Harding junior running back Quavaris Crouch is quickly becoming a household name.
Like a lot of teenagers, Quavaris Crouch spends a lot of time online. Specifically on YouTube.
But you can go ahead and count that as study time for the Harding University HIgh School running back.
"I look at all the running backs," Crouch told NBC Charlotte, "and try and take things from their game and put it towards my game.
Crouch, who stands in at 6-foot-3, 225 pounds and only entering his junior season, is specifically looking at players who boast the rare blend of speed, and size.
"He just watches YouTube videos all day," said teammate and older brother Malik Dunlap, a defensive back committed to NC State. "He watches Leonard Fournette, Derrick Henry, Bo Scarbrough."
Quavaris Crouch is No. 1 RB in country None
Now Crouch is on track to have someone typing his name into the search bar in years to come. He was recently ranked the No. 1 running back in the 2019 recruiting class by 247Sports.
"It makes me feel like I’ve got to work harder to live up to it," said Crouch.
Crouch has been offered by most major college football programs you can think of, including Alabama, Michigan, Clemson, Florida State, UNC and scores of others.
"He’s definitely the best I’ve ever seen," said Rams coach Sam Greiner. "From a physical standpoint, a work ethic, the ability to play the game he’s definitely something you don’t see every 20 years."
But with those accolades comes a big dose of humility.
"He could care less," said Greiner. "He is the number one player, but that's not important to him. He'll never mention that to you. He always wants to get better."
And that's exactly what he's done at Harding. After the Rams were just 1-10 his freshman year, Crouch and the rest of the Harding players rebounded to help the program reach the playoffs for the first time in six seasons last year.
"I want to win," said Crouch. "They come in and sleep on us and we’re going to hit them."
Hodge primed to take over experienced South Point team
First-year head coach Adam Hodge is no stranger to the Red Raiders' program
BELMONT, N.C. – First-year South Point head coach Adam Hodge is living the dream.
The 2004 South Point graduate, who helped the school win a state championship during his senior season in 2003, was handed the reins with the retirement of Mickey Lineberger following a state championship season last year.
“I’ve been here a long time, got to witness some good teams,” Hodge said. “I’ve been around some good coaches. Coach Lineberger, coach Tate, coach Devine, just to name a few.”
It would be understandable for a first-year head coach to be a bit overwhelmed, especially a tradition-rich program such as South Point. But not Hodge, who’s been a part of the program for going on 14 years in 2017.
His philosophy is simple.
“If it ain’t (sic) broke, don’t fix it,” Hodge said. “We’re not going to change a whole lot. We’re going to do what we’ve been doing.
“We believe in working hard and that’s how you get it done. You work hard every day and try to be as good as you can every Friday.”
South Point opens the season with three straight road games, including trips to Crest and Lincolnton. With over a dozen starters returning, including nine on offense, Hodge knows he’ll need to rely on their experience in case things go arye.
“The big thing is you know you’ve got leaders,” he said. “You don’t have to deal with a lot of the in-house problems you might have if you go in somewhere you don’t know the kids.”
The Raiders started last season at 2-4 before rattling off 10 straight wins to claim the school’s fifth state championship.
Life as a Division I prospect
What's it like when coaches across the country want you on their team? Nick Carboni sat down with three coveted prospects to find out.
Some of the top Division I football prospects in the state — and the country — reside in the Charlotte area.
NBC Charlotte sports director Nick Carboni sat down with three of them for an informal chat, to get insight to what it's like to be a highly-prized college football recruit.
The recruits are:
Jordan Davis, Mallard Creek, Defensive Tackle
Considering: UNC, Florida State, Georgia, Michigan, Florida
Dax Hollifield, Shelby, Linebacker
Considering: Stanford, Florida State, Virginia Tech, UNC, South Carolina, Clemson, Alabama, Florida
Rick Sandidge Jr., Concord, Defensive Tackle
Considering: Florida, Georgia, UNC, Virginia Tech, South Carolina, Penn State, Michigan
Life as a D1 recruit None
How often do people ask you where you're going next year?
Dax: We sell discount cards for our fundraiser every year. I go door to door. Every door I went to in Shelby I got asked where are you going to college?
Rick: When I had my Top 11 I made it my screensaver and whenever anyone would ask me I would just show them my phone.
Jordan: When I go to the store, they be like, I know you're playing somewhere. I'm like, I'm just in high school. Someday I'll be able to play for such and such but right now I'm just going through the motions.
What do you do with all of that mail (recruiting letters)?
Jordan: They send it to the coach's office and sometimes to my house. The ones I do get I put in a little box for my mom so she can look back and have it.
Dax: My dad is a teacher so we've got a bunch of paper boxes. I have 8 or 9 of them just full of mail. I probably have a 100 something not even opened.
Rick: I have an attic to the side of my room and I have a box and I just put all the mail in my attic.
Do you agree with the adage that you should pick a coach and not a school?
Rick: No. Because what if he ends up leaving?
Dax: I wouldn't want to try and pick a school based on a head coach. Because he could leave any time. You shouldn't do that.
All these schools have fun game atmospheres, traditions, good academics. So what sets them apart from each other to a recruit?
Rick: Home. Saying I can live here for the next three or four years. If something was to happen to me, would they be able to take care of me? Like that could be my home for the rest of my life, really.
Jordan: Home. If football is out of the equation would I still go to school here?
How much do you pay attention to recruiting rankings?
Jordan: No. It's all about a state championship. I don't want to leave North Carolina without a ring on my finger. Don't pay attention to that glitz and glamour because at the end of the day it's going to be the hard work pulling you through.
How much do academics play a part in your decision?
Jordan: A lot. You can't go to school without academics.
Rick: But every school has academics. Everybody has good academics. You're going to get your degree no matter what.
Charisma, talent, and determination: Howell poised for breakout season
Sun Valley QB Sam Howell has some lofty goals. But don't be shocked when his name fills the North Carolina record books.
Charlotte's reputation as a recruiting hotbed for some of the country’s top college football programs continues to grow.
Sun Valley’s Sam Howell is considered by recruiting services as a top five quarterback in the country for the Class of 2019.
“Missouri, Minnesota, Pittsburgh, NC State, North Carolina, Duke…” Howell said.
He has 14 offers in all, but more are sure to come. Howell is just getting ready to start his junior year.
“It’s kind of stressful, because at some point you know you’re going to have to make a decision that will affect you for the rest of your life,” Howell said. “So I just try to enjoy it for now, and just try to have some fun with it.”
Junior QB Sam Howell talks recruiting, role models and goals for his Spartans None
“He walks in, and people know there’s somebody different in the room,” Sun Valley Coach Tad Baucom said. “Now, does he look 25 years old? Yes. That’s part of it. But he’s got that charisma about him.”
Charisma and talent. A lot like his favorite player.
“Recently, it’s been Deshaun Watson,” Howell said. “I try to model myself off of everything he does. Even off the field, he’s a good guy. I try to be like Deshaun.”
Former South Carolina All-American Kelcy Quarles stopped by practice Wednesday. When it was over, he was left wondering why his Gamecocks haven’t extended Howell an offer.
“I think they missed out,” Quarles said. “They missed out on this one. They missed out on this one real bad. He’s got a cannon.”
But it was a simple act before practice that impressed Quarles the most.
“ He came out here carrying the balls,” Quarles said. “You’re going to a division one school. Get one of these ninth-graders to carry the balls. But this dude came out here carrying the balls. You can’t do nothing but respect that. I respect it.”
Individually, Howell wants to break the state passing records held by former Independence star Chris Leak, but more importantly he has a specific team goal in mind.
“All I want to do is bring a state championship back to Sun Valley,” Howell said.