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Amid concerns and heat, high school football kicks off tonight

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Cumberland County high school football attempts a return to a more normal schedule tonight as the 2021 season kicks off.

There is still concern among coaches and athletes as COVID-19 cases around the entire state are spiking, and, unlike when they played an abbreviated schedule this past spring, the blistering August heat in the Fayetteville area is an issue.

In spite of those challenges, play resumes tonight with a full schedule of games for Cumberland County Schools.

Here is the schedule, followed by some final words from each coach as they briefly review their scrimmage season and look ahead to the start of play.

Tonight’s games:

Cape Fear at Durham Riverside, 7 p.m.

Red Springs at Douglas Byrd, 7:30 p.m.

E.E. Smith at Seventy-First, 7:30 p.m.

Gray’s Creek at Hoke County, 7:30 p.m.

Jack Britt at Pine Forest, 7 p.m.

Overhills at South View, 7:30 p.m.

Terry Sanford at Kernersville Glenn, 7 p.m.

Southern Lee at Westover, 7 p.m.

Team by team

Jack Britt

Because of COVID-19 protocols, the Buccaneers did not get to have any preseason scrimmages, so head coach Brian Randolph will be headed into tonight’s first game without the benefit of seeing his team perform against another opponent.

Further complicating matters, tonight’s game with Pine Forest, originally scheduled to be played at Britt, had to be moved to the Trojans’ field because of construction on the track at Jack Britt.

“We’re going into the game blind,’’ Randolph said.

Because of that, Randolph can’t worry about what Pine Forest will do tonight. His focus has been on making sure his team is ready to perform.

That means execution on offense and making sure the defense is lined up properly and plays with discipline in covering gaps and receivers.

The offense will be led by a pair of solid running backs, Jemell Vereen and Sincere Baines.

Randolph calls Vereen a powerful runner and a good receiver out of the backfield. Baines has outstanding quickness and great vision.

The biggest areas of concern are the offensive and defensive lines, where the Buccaneers suffered major graduation losses.

“Our defense was lights out (last year) as everybody knows,’’ Randolph said. “If we can replicate parts of that we’ll be all right.’’

Douglas Byrd

Turnout has been a major problem for the Eagles in recent years, but first-year coach Maurice Huey is turning things around with 45 players suited up so far. He’s hoping the situation will be better this week as more of the freshmen and sophomores arrive on the Byrd campus.

“It’s been a process all summer,’’ he said. “We did a great job adjusting, learning the offense, defense and all the philosophies. The kids are excited and bouncing around.’’

Offensive bright spots so far include quarterback Jameion Johnson and running back Alton Simmons.

On the defensive side, Huey has been impresssed with linebacker Demarcus Carroll and defensive back Te’john Darden.

“Health is going to be a key,’’ he said. “As long as we can keep the injury bug away and everybody is bouncing around, we should have a shot,’’ he said.

Cape Fear

Photo credit: Trey Edge

Coach Jake Thomas has a few holes to fill this season, with new faces in the offensive line and a secondary that is short on game experience. “We’ve still got to continue to grow, make some mistakes,’’ he said. “We feel if we can continue to progress, we can fix those. We’ve got a lot of our skill guys back.’’

One of the most important is quarterback Cole Wilson. “A quarterback with a year under his belt in the offense is huge,’’ Thomas said. The key will be developing the offensive line so it can provide him protection and open holes for the running game.

Jakari Lightsey, who will play receiver and defensive back, has shown promise with big catches in Cape Fear’s scrimmages. Receiver Devonte’ Hill has also been a bright spot, along with running back Keyshon Washington and receiver/defensive back Avery Moore.

Washington has been especially impressive at linebacker after moving from strong safety.

Communication in the young offensive line will be critical Thomas said, along with special teams play. “They can make a difference in those close games,’’ Thomas said of special teams.

Gray’s Creek

First-year Bear coach Johnathan Sherman is excited about the trio of players he has at the running back position. They include the elusive Richard Williams along with Armer Mitchell and Javon Webb.

Another offensive bright spot is slot receiver Camden Bragh. 

Sherman returns a core group of veterans in the offensive line in center Tyler Thompson, tackle Gage Pate and guard Gage Ratley.

“They’re used to it and have been in the thick of it,’’ he said.

A major area of concern is defense where Sherman said the Bears will have a lot of youth. Among the biggest areas needing work are the linebacking corps and the secondary.

“We’ve really got to get our defense on the same page,’’ he said. “That’s the big concern right now. Communicating.’’

He also wants his offense to start games quicker than it has so far. “We’re taking too long to get moving,’’ he said.

Pine Forest 

Veteran Trojan head coach Bill Sochovka is most concerned about his team’s physicality and the sharp drop in skill level from starters to second team.

“If we get injuries in certain spots, we may be down two starters,’’ he said.

The good news is the younger players have responded to the teaching points Sochovka and his staff have made after reviewing the video of Pine Forest’s scrimmages this season. “They are buying into it and that’s refreshing to see,’’ he said.

Bright spots include quarterback Aiydan Davenport, who brings strong bloodlines to the position. He’s the son of former Trojan Derrick Davenport and the nephew of N.C. State and Pittsburgh Steeler alumni Charles Davenport.

Also showing promise on offense is Nehemiah Williams at running back and the offensive line as a group. Leading the defense is linebacker Justin “Tuff” Eaglin.

Terry Sanford

Bruce McClelland described his spring Bulldog football team as young. Now that the season has arrived, if it’s possible, the squad is even younger. Even some of the more experienced players on the squad are just sophomores, which bodes well for the future but could make things challenging in the weeks ahead.

One bright spot is in the offensive line where young players like Jaylon McDuffie, Christian Olivas and Christian Deaver are causes for optimism.

“Those guys have made huge jumps in practice,’’ McClelland said.

Other offensive stars include running back Jre Jackson, quarterback Dante Garcia and wide receiver Patrick Shook.

Jackson was held out of the Bulldogs’ final scrimmage as a precaution because of minor ailments.

McClelland said Garcia is miles ahead of where he was last year, mainly because he’s been able to get more practice time this fall.

Defensive standouts include linebackers Barnes Smith and defensive end Trevon Wacter. The latter also play tight end.

Seventy-First

Head coach Duran McLaurin is feeling positive about the fall season after putting together a disappointing 2-4 record during the spring. He thinks his team is going to be strong defensively and offensively will boast a strong running game led by returning backs Anthony Quinn and Jayden Shotwell.

Linebacker Jamieson “Jupe” Alston and safeties Mendez Lucas and Isaac Lewis have shown promise throughout summer workouts.

Ashton Williams and Nick Bailey anchor the offensive line and are both expecting big years even though they are just juniors.

McLaurin’s biggest concern is cleaning up details like minor penalties that can crop up in bad situations.

One thing McLaurin is pleased about is the new United 8 Conference the Falcons are in that spares them the challenge of having to play schools like Richmond Senior, Scotland and Pinecrest on a regular basis.

“People don’t realize how tough it is to play them every year,’’ he said. “It kind of set the groundwork for us to have success here in town. I expect for us to be right back where we left off.’’

E.E. Smith

Coach Andy Karcher has been preaching competition to his Golden Bulls as they attempt to rebuild from a string of disappointing seasons.

“I think our defensive line has improved,’’ Karcher said. “They are starting to play with their hands a little more than they did in the past.’’

A bright spot on offense has been running back Malik Brunson.

“Our offensive line play still needs to be shored up,’’ Karcher said. “Our passing concepts are a little rough.’’

A positive sign offensively is the play of running back and slot receiver Seth Franklin. “I think he’s going to be pretty dynamic,’’ Karcher said.

Defensive focus is on tackling and play in the secondary.

David Adams has shown promise at linebacker, while two-way performer Dwayne Davis will be a key figure in both lines.

South View

The Tigers had the best record in Cumberland County last season, and coach Rodney Brewington appears to be expecting more of the same this fall.

“We are very strong defensively and excited to see how our defense shapes up,’’ he said.

Top players on the defensive side of the ball include linebacker Jaylen Johnson and defensive end Davion Jackson.

Although the offense returns one of the most explosive players in the county in quarterback Cedavion Wimbley, Brewington said things have been going a little slow there because he’s trying to break in an almost completely new offensive line.

“We are going to need to tighten up on the offensive side to put points up,’’ he said. “It’s more of a timing issue than anything else.’’

Wimbley sat out two of South View’s three scrimmage games because Brewington didn’t want to risk injury.

Aside from Wimbley the other offensive bright spot is wide receiver Jamareese Ray.

Defensively the top player for the Tigers has been lineman Bryan Brewington. “He’s really going to give offenses trouble,’’ Brewington said.

The focus for the Tigers in the final week of practice before tonight’s game has been special teams. “We’ve tried to work on everything,’’ Brewington said.

Westover

Coach Ernest King feels his Wolverines have grown up from the past two seasons and are more physical on both sides of the football.

“We are recovering from some of our mistakes, and we don’t let it determine how the game goes,’’ he said.

“Our linebacker corps is a bright spot for us. Our receiving corps and quarterback are going to be a bright spot. We are still trying to find our identity in the running game. We feel like we can move the ball by throwing it.’’

Stopping the run, something the Wolverines have had problems with the last two seasons, will be critical.

Two players who are expected to lead the receiving corps are Kaivaughn Spence and Jamari Stallion. Stallion is a veteran who has had a good summer catching the ball.

Quarterback Josh Jones will be the leader of the offense.

Getting strong in both lines and the secondary will be critical. King said he’s taken over coaching the secondary and feels they are getting better.


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