That’s coming from one uber-excited high school football fan.
Friday marks the beginning of my seventh season covering the pigskin in southeastern North Carolina and I can’t remember being this amped for a 12-week — hopefully longer — vacation plan in and around Robeson County.
Red Springs has grabbed most of the headlines this summer and for good reason. The Red Devils reached the third round of the state playoffs last season — farther than any other county school — and return the best player in the area at quarterback, reigning offensive player of the year Blake Greene.
Greene is one of two players in the county selected on the preseason all-state squad, teammate JuJu Brown being the other. It’ll be interesting to see if the Red Devils can match last season’s win total and beyond.
Local legend Mike Brill says this fall will be his last on the Lumberton sideline. I wouldn’t be too sure. The man has football in his blood. He loves it. Seems like it would be tough to give up that big a chunk of his life.
But maybe this is it for the former state champion. I’ll certainly miss his intensity and knowledge of the game if that’s the case.
Red Springs at West Bladen
Former Red Springs offensive coordinator Joe Salas opens his career at West Bladen with a home date against the Red Devils. Friday is also the first opportunity for Red Springs, the preseason Three Rivers favorite, to show its deserving of a No. 9 state ranking. This game, while high-scoring, won’t be the old-fashioned shootout expected from two spread offenses. Despite Salas knowing most of the Red Devils’ playbook, West Bladen’s defense won’t be able to match the opposition’s speed. Former Lumberton quarterback Zach Wilcox makes his debut for West Bladen against a defense that struggled at times against the pass last season.
Red Springs 34, West Bladen 14
Union at Fairmont
Things will begin to transition back to normalcy this week in Fairmont as the football team returns to the field to honor their fallen comrades Tyreke Addison and Nokolma Hunt, June graduates and former players who died in a car accident last month. The Golden Tornadoes plan on honoring the pair prior to their game with Union. The tight-knit community in Fairmont will bounce back cheering in full force this season for a squad that has won three consecutive conference titles. With plenty of weapons returning on offense, the James Atkinson era starts off with a bang for the Golden Tornadoes.
Fairmont 38, Union 12
Lumberton at Cape Fear
The first of three road games to open the season, the Pirates have another difficult non-conference schedule this fall. Lumberton has plenty of talent on defense, but it’ll be up to the other side of the football to score enough points and win close ballgames. Daniel Robinson and Ahmad Smith will split carries in a backfield thin on depth. The toughest contest to pick in Week 1, Lumberton’s defense comes through with a late stop to preserve the win.
Lumberton 21, Cape Fear 14
Swett at Pine Forest
The Rams could be a surprise this season after spinning their wheels to six losses in 11 games during last year’s spiral. Swett is strong up front, quick in the secondary and should be fine on offense with a new tailback that runs low and runs hard in Juan Ellerbe. If the newcomers limit turnovers, I think the Rams have enough pieces to challenge for a No. 3 spot in the Southeastern Conference. We’ll see a glimpse this week in Fayetteville. Swett’s defense should create points for the offense in this one.
Swett 27, Pine Forest 6
Gray’s Creek at St. Pauls
With the acquisition of two 4A assistant coaches in the offseason, St. Pauls’ football program seems to be on the rise under the direction of coach Trey Sasser. The tools are in place on both sides of the ball, particularly in the trenches, for the Bulldogs to challenge for a conference title this season. Unfortunately, drawing Gray’s Creek in the opener — one of the co-favorites in the Cape Fear Valley Conference — isn’t an ideal scenario for a team working out the kinks in a revamped, hurry-up offense. Stopping Bears quarterback Joe Wallace and the Wing-T is paramount on Friday night.
Gray’s Creek 28, St. Pauls 14
Western Harnett at South Robeson
I’m as anxious as anyone to see what Stephen Roberson has in Rowland after inheriting one of the state’s most futile programs. Numbers have been up throughout the summer and the offense is capable of scoring more points than last season. Western Harnett has won just five games over the last two seasons, but as much as I’d like to think the Mustangs’ 15-game losing streak will come to an end, it’s too early to predict a turnaround.
Western Harnett 20, South Robeson 14