Observer Preseason Sweet 16 Poll: Here Are The Area’s Best High School Football Teams

2016 Record: 14-1

Returning Starters: 10

Featured Players: Eli Adams, Sr., DE (6-2, 225); B.T. Potter, Sr., K (5-11, 165); Steve Gilmore (Jr.), Sr., CB/WR (5-11, 170); Jamari Currence, Sr., CB (5-11, 160).

Why Them?: Senior QB Derion Kendrick (6-1, 195) is one of the best players in the nation. The Clemson commit, who threw for 3,348 yards and 37 touchdowns last season, has plenty of talent around him. Stallions are a favorite to win a fourth straight state title.

2. Mallard Creek (4A)

2016 Record: 9-3

Returning Starters: 5

Featured Players: Kalen Allen, Sr., LB (6-1, 230); Cam Lowery, Sr., LB (6-0, 225); Jordan Davis, Sr., DT (6-6, 315); Charles Johnson, Sr., DT (6-3, 300); Jawan Tate, Sr., OL (6-7, 270)

Why Them?: The Mavericks have been the region’s premier program for the past few years but took a bit of a stumble in 2016, ending a run of three straight championships. This team doesn’t have much experience, but it has the talent and size to make a title run again.

3. Charlotte Catholic (3A)

2016 Record: 13-2

Returning Starters: 11

Featured Players: Milan Howard, Sr., RB (5-11, 186); Chase Foley, Sr., LB (6-1, 216); Malik McGovern, So., OT (6-4, 320); Ari Rodriguez, Jr., DT (6-0, 274); Michael Neel, Jr., RB (5-10, 177); Brian Jacobs, Jr., SS (5-8, 145)

Why Them?: The Cougars are 45-4 in the past three years under coach Mike Brodowicz. This year, Catholic moves down a class to 3A, and away from most of the state’s pre-eminent powers.

4. Butler (4A)

2016 Record: 12-2

Returning Starters: 8

Featured Players: Nijere Peoples, Sr. RB (5-11, 210); Cam Taylor, Sr., OL (6-1, 305); T.J. Cusick, Sr., DB (5-11, 180); Kaleb Simmons, Sr., LB (6-0, 235); Johnny Connor, Sr., DL (6-0, 325); Amaziah Bell, Jr., DL (6-0, 320).

Why Them: Butler graduated 27 seniors but has the talent to reload – led by Peoples (1,351 yards, 28 TDs rushing in 2016) – at a school known for fielding gifted players, year after year.

5. Richmond Senior (4A)

2016 Record: 9-4

Returning Starters: 6

Featured Players: Jalen Baldwin, Sr., WR (5-9, 170); Delon Wall, Sr., DE/LB (6-2, 220); Savion Streeter, SR., OLB (5-10, 200); Andre Ellerbe, Sr., LB (6-2, 190); Bobby Terry, JR., WR/RB (5-10, 185)

Why Them: First-year coach Bryan Till has 30 lettermen back and a team hungry to return to its perch atop N.C. football. There’s plenty of talent in Rockingham, as usual.

6. Charlotte Christian (IND)

2016 Record: 10-2

Returning Starters: 18

Featured Players: Justus Woods, Sr., (6-2, 210); Garrett Shrader, Jr., QB (6-5, 210); Terrelle Brown, Sr., WR (6-0, 175); Josh Eboboko, Jr., ATH (5-10, 180); Jeremiah Gray, Jr., WR/FS (6-2, 200); Bryan Rogers, Sr., OL/DL (6-6, 315).

Why Them: Major-college talent across the board for a N.C. Independent School championship finalist. Christian also returns 35 lettermen and might be one of the region’s deepest teams.

7. Myers Park (4A)

2016 Record: 11-2

Returning Starters: 11

Featured Players: Elijah Bowick, Jr., WR (6-2, 210); Khamal Howard, Sr., RB (5-11, 210); Muhsin Muhammad, So, WR (6-0, 170); Brayden Hawkins, Sr, QB (6-3, 215); Cameron Roseman-Sinclair, So., FS (6-0, 195)

Why Them: Mustangs are deep, big and talented. Last season was one of the best in school history. Myers Park is poised to potentially top it in 2017.

8. Vance (4A)

2016 Record: 13-2

Returning Starters: 6

Featured Players: Gerald Nathan (Jr.), Sr., LB (6-2, 215); Damir Faison, Sr., DE/FB (6-4, 250); Teonne Porter, Sr., SS (6-0, 170); Kalen Clark, Sr., RB (6-0, 210); M.J. Williams, Sr., RB/DB (5-8, 175); Luke Thrower, Sr., OL (6-4, 310).

Why Them: Coach Aaron Brand has built the Cougars into a regional power. After reaching the state semifinals last year, Brand must reload, but the talent is there.

9. Hough (4A)

2016 Record: 7-5

Returning Starters: 14

Featured Players: Jarrett Nagy, Sr., RB/LB (5-9, 195); Rashad Williams, Sr., RB/DB (5-7, 175); Jonnie Varga, Sr., OG (6-2, 295); Damon Early, Sr., DE/TE (6-3, 190); Tyus Fields, Jr., CB/WR (5-11, 185); Nolan Groulx, Jr., WR (5-11, 185)

Why Them: As much talent as any team in the area, including the “double-trouble” backfield of Rashad Williams and Jarrett Nagy. First-year coach Matt Jenkins has much to work with.

10. A.L. Brown (3A)

2016 Record: 9-4

Returning Starters: 9

Featured Players: Jeremy Davis, Sr., OL/DL (6-0, 260); Malachi Lyles, Sr., OL/DL (6-0), 270); Najee Williams, Sr., DE (6-1, 200); C.C. Huntley, Sr., DL (5-11, 240); Brian Gutteriz, Sr., K (5-10, 180).

Why Them: Moving down to 3A, playing teams more similar in size, should be a boon to Brown’s state title chances. The Wonders won 19 games in the past two years with bigger 4A teams.

11. Shelby (2A)

2016 Record: 16-0

Returning Starters: 8

Featured Players: Dax Hollifield, Sr., LB (6-2, 230); Malik Sarratt, Sr., QB (6-0, 195); Jaylon Scott, Jr., LB (6-2, 225); Turner Smith, Sr., DB (6-1, 175); Will Stites, Sr., LB (5-10, 195); Josh Smith, Sr., DB (6-1, 175).

Why Them: Well, the QB Malik Sarratt threw for more than 3,000 yards and the defense allowed less than 10 points per game. Sarratt is back and all three linebackers are back. Here’s a favorite to win a fifth straight state title.

12. Rock Hill Northwestern (5A)

2016 Record: 9-2

Returning Starters: 10

Featured Players: Fentell Cyprus, Jr., CB (6-1, 175); DeQuez Harris, Sr., WR/RB (6-2, 215); Christian Steele, Sr., MLB (6-3, 220); Jamario Holley, Jr., WR (6-1, 180); K.D. Canaty, Sr., OL (6-5, 285)

Why Them?: One of the area’s most consistent teams, Northwestern was 9-1 in the regular-season and won the Region IV championship last season. The Trojans should be hungry after a first-round playoff loss to Gaffney.

13. West Mecklenburg (4A)

2016 Record: 9-4

Returning Starters: 14

Featured Players: Dyami Brown, Sr., WR/RB/DB (6-2, 180); Khafre Brown, Jr., WR/RB/DB (6-1, 170); Tyler Barnes, Sr., WR (6-4, 195); Zyquis Law, Sr., LB/DB (6-0, 165); William Barringer, Sr., LB (6-0, 190); Anthony Hall, Sr., DL/LB (6-0, 220).

Why Them: Coach Jarvis Davis has lots of skill-position talent. If he can work in a new QB, the Hawks should emerge as the favorite in the SoMeck conference.

14. Monroe (3A)

2016 Record: 12-3

Returning Starters: 8

Featured Players: McKinley Nelson, Sr, RB/LB (5-11, 182); Trey Shepherd, Jr, QB (6-3, 175); Justin Crowder, Sr, DL (6-2, 200); Devohn Cruz, Sr, OL/DL (6-2, 212)

Why Them: Redhawks have averaged 12 wins per season in the past eight years. They’re moving up to 3A this season but again have talent to make a potential deep playoff run.

15. South Point (2A)

2016 Record: 12-4

Returning Starters: 14

Featured Players: Jake Alexander, Sr., FB (6-2, 200); Matthew Robinson, Sr., LB/DE (6-3, 210); Phillip Davis, Sr. DL (6-1, 315); Scottie Lee, Sr., QB (6-2, 160)

Why Them: South Point started 1-3 last season and won the 3A state championship. Former assistant coach Adam Hodge takes over the team, and has 26 lettermen back to make a run at a repeat.

16. Hibriten (2A)

2016 Record: 14-1

Returning Starters: 10

Featured Players: Charles Tassinari, Sr., LB (6-0, 234); Noah Haney, Sr., DE/P/K (6-2/233); McKinley Witherspoon, Jr., RB/CB (5-11, 181); Miles Simon, Sr., RB/FS (6-1, 196); Skylin Thomas, Jr., SS/RB (5-9, 177).

Why Them: After a 14-0 start, Hibriten lost 26-0 in the 3A semifinals to South Point. The team moves down to 2A this season and has the weapons to make another deep playoff run.

Also receiving consideration

Freedom (3A), Concord Robinson (3A), Crest (3A); Kings Mountain (3A); Weddington (3A)

Source :

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