KEATOR: Predictions ahead of the 2019-20 season
By Jake Keator
The Daily Reflector
Monday, August 19, 2019
No matter who you ask, most coaches, no matter the sport, will tell you that preseason predictions mean nothing in reference to the game itself, and I agree.
However, the idea of making early guesses as to who will still be playing for something come time for the playoffs is not only entertaining, but can set teams up to prove everyone, including myself, wrong. With that being said, here are my preseason projections for all seven high school football teams in The Daily Reflector coverage area in alphabetical order. (Note: These projections are solely based on the regular season. There are no projections for how deep potential playoff runs could be for these teams.)
Projected record: 6-4 overall, 3-3 2-A Eastern Carolina Conference
Why?: The Chargers have had roller-coaster seasons the past two years, starting hot before cooling off as they made their way through a strong conference schedule. However, at the end of the regular season, they always find themselves still in the hunt for a state title and consistently extending their incredible postseason streak which currently sits at 18 consecutive appearances.
I expect the Chargers to once again be a model of consistency despite losing a lot of talent, including the departure of running back Ray Darden to graduation. A-G still has plenty of other talented to backs to fit any situation, and it will undoubtedly pay off at an important point in the season.
Projected record: 8-3 overall, 5-1 in 3-A/4-A Eastern Carolina Conference
Why?: Yes, the Vikings lost a dominant player for the second straight year, but I think they will remain a top contender for a conference title this season.
Quarterback Nick Hamilton looks even more confident in his offensive ability than he did at the conclusion of last season, and the Conley wide receivers group should have no issue moving the ball without CJ Johnson. While stopping Johnson was a focal point for every opponent, this year they will have to find a way to stop a larger group that includes Charlie Dees, Matthew Rostar, LeShaun Atchinson and others. I do believe the team will have to fight a little harder defensively after the graduation of Nyck Brown, Johnson and Reed Chandler, all of whom played important leadership roles on the field to go along with their high level of talent.
My only loss in conference play for DHC is against J.H. Rose, but that game could easily come down to the wire and will play an important role in deciding who claims the conference title come season’s end.
Projected record: 2-9 overall, 1-4 in 2-A Eastern Plains Conference
Why?: Last season’s 3-8 record was disappointing for the Jaguars, but a coaching change, combined with the loss of top player Keziah Everett, who has now joined the East Carolina football program, will only make things more difficult for the Jaguars in 2019.
There are bright spot,s however, as FC holds a very young roster along with plenty of athleticism. Head coach Eddie Rhodes aims to open up the offense to an increased passing game, which will be led by freshman quarterback Brandon Knight. Suggs, who played quarterback last season under former head coach Scott Gardner, rarely saw his number called to throw the ball, though this season Knight will hear his number called to see if he can produce big plays. He will be prone to freshman mistakes as he learns to adjust to the speed and intensity of varsity high school football.
It will be a rebuild season for FC as Rhodes begins to change the culture and implement his scheme into the program.
Projected record: 7-4, 4-2 in 2-A Eastern Carolina Conference
Why?: Like FC, Greene Central also is entering the season with a new head coach in Jay Wilson, who was promoted to head coach after the departure of Allen Wooten to Havelock. In six seasons with the Rams, Wooten’s teams never missed the playoffs, placing high expectations for Wilson in his first season.
Wilson had already been around the program as the junior varsity head coach and varsity defensive backs coach, giving him a relationship with the team prior to his promotion. This season, he will have a talented running back to highlight his offense in Knowledge Branch while also working with new quarterback, junior Cole Dawson.
After coming close to defeating South Central last season in Week One, the Rams could actually finish at 8-3, but the depth of the Falcons is what gave them the edge in my projections. Other games on the schedule will also be difficult, such as Kinston, West Craven and Ayden-Grifton.
Projected record: 9-2, 6-0 in 3-A/4-A Eastern Carolina Conference
Why?: The Rampants are my pick to walk away conference champions this season in what should once again turn into a three-way slugfest between JHR and rivals South Central and D.H. Conley.
An explosive offense led by junior quarterback Wade Jarman and a defense with Silas James in control could cause trouble for every opponent. Head coach Dave Wojtecki said the Rampants also have three returning starters to the offensive line, including senior center Storm James. A strong O-line is the key to any offensive success, which is what puts Rose ahead of others in my opinion.
The Rampants’ run game is also interesting, as Jarman’s ability to move the ball on the ground or hand of to power running back Shaquan Perry or speed back Micheal Allen will keep defenses on guard. Add outside receiving threats such as 6-foot-4, 220-pound Kevin Hamilton, and the Rose passing game should return again this season as a major threat.
Projected record: 2-9, 2-3 in 2-A Eastern Plains Conference
Why?: There has been major growth in Bethel as head coach Greg Watford enters his second year with the Panthers.
His young core has now fully grasped Watford’s expectations, but a brutally difficult schedule puts a serious cap on how much that growth will translate into wins. The growth will provide a break to the three-consecutive 1-10 seasons for NP, however, as it defeats North Johnston and rival Farmville Central.
The main trio of quarterback Alex Espinosa-Johnson, running back Raheem Jones and wide receiver Steven Carroll will take control on both sides of the ball. Carroll and Jones have also both made primary position changes. Jones, who put on more than 10 pounds of muscle this offseason, will move to nose guard on defense, while Carroll, who spent most of his time at defensive end, has dropped 30-pounds and will become mostly a wide receiver. Other major names returning are On’teds Harris, Zaiere Bradley and Ti’shawn Spence.
Projected record: 9-2, 4-2 in 3-A/4-A Eastern Carolina Conference
Why?: The Falcons will take a step back this season after graduating a highly talented 22-man senior class last season, which included big names such as Nazir Monroe-Smith, Phillip Chen, Christian Barnes and Jeremy Lewis.
Head coach Andy Tew and the Falcons were picked to finish second in the conference’s preseason coaches poll, but he admitted that making a dominant run like last season will be much more difficult. Leading the charge will be quarterback Justin Humphries, who will have to find another top target outside of Lewis. This season, the QB will have some length at receiver, particularly in seniors Zion Price and Jyquan Shepard, both of whom stand at 6-4.
Another benefit is a strong offensive line, which Tew called the largest and strongest he’s had since his arrival in Winterville. Even with a strong line and a couple of returning playmakers, I believe it will be difficult for South Central to repeat as conference champions and make a deep run in the 4-A state playoffs.
Contact Jake Keator at firstname.lastname@example.org, 252-329-9594 and follow @JakeKeatorDR on Twitter.