FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS
Football’s back and with it the dreams of another generation of young stars-to-be and championship hopefuls.
Fourteen of the area’s 16 football playing high schools open their seasons tonight at either 7 or 7:30. Seven are at home, seven on the road, highlighted by a game with statewide implications — Hillside at New Bern, the 2010 state 4-A champion against the 2011-12 two-time state champs, respectively.
Hillside beat New Bern in the state semifinals en route to its 2010 state title, but has lost to the Bears each of the past two seasons. This is the second straight year the teams will meet in New Bern.
The Bears return to Hillside next season.
New Bern is ranked No. 5 in the state by MaxPreps.com, the official online partner of the N.C. High School Athletic Association, and Hillside is No. 23.
The Bears mauled the Hornets 40-20 last year, taking advantage of Hillside mistakes to pull away.
“We played a bad game against them last year,” Hillside coach Antonio King said. “We are 1-2 against them the last three years, but the one we won was the one that mattered (2010 East Regional final).”
Other teams with legitimate state aspirations that open play tonight include Orange, a state semifinalist last year which returns star back Patrick Pettiford, in Hillsboro against struggling Roxboro Person, and Carrboro, last year’s state runner-up, which travels to Hillsborough to meet Cedar Ridge.
Northwood is another potentially outstanding team and it will host East Chapel Hill in a Chatham County-Orange County battle in Pittsboro.
Southern, picked among the top 10 3-A teams in the state by at least one publication, has an open date tonight, as does the still-building young Kestrel Heights 1-A program.
The season begins with a new look. Area teams competed in a total of three conferences last year — Carolina 12 1-A/2-A, Carolina 6 3-A and PAC-6 4-A. Because of reclassification based on student enrollments, the 16 area teams will compete in a total of six conferences and four of those will be the only area teams in their conference.
— In 1-A, Kestrel Heights is the lone football playing member of the North Central 1-A Athletic Conference which will not receive an automatic state playoff berth. Granville Central, which dropped down from 2-A, is in the new Tar-Roanoke 1-A Athletic Conference with Gaston KIPP Pride, Louisburg, Northwest Halifax, Southeast Halifax and Weldon.
— In 2-A, Carrboro is the only area school in the Mid-State 2-A Conference, which features perennial power Reidsville, Bartlett Yancey, Burlington Cummings, Jordan-Matthews and Graham. Ditto for South Granville, which joins the new Northern Carolina 2-A Conference and will compete against Bunn, Franklinton, Southern Vance, Roanoke Rapids and Warren County.
— The 3-A ranks see the rise of the new, powerful Big Eight Conference, which takes the place of the old Carolina 6. Moving up from 2-A to play in the new league are Cedar Ridge and Northwood. Moving into the league from the 4-A ranks is Southern. C-6 holdovers Chapel Hill, Orange, Oxford Webb, Cardinal Gibbons and Northern Vance are also on board.
— The PAC-6 4-A loses Southern to reclassification, but retains prohibitive favorite Hillside along with East Chapel Hill, Jordan, Person, Riverside and Northern.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
If the game itself — and maybe the mouth-watering food some of the area’s most creative booster clubs will be selling tonight — check out some of the top collegiate recruiting targets.
Hillside’s senior tandem of receiver Trevion Thompson and running back Donté Thomas-Williams, both four-star prospects on a 0 to 5 scale and wanted by just about anyone who is anyone in college football, will be joined on the field by N.C. State commit Kalen McCain for the Hornets. New Bern has its own stars worth watching as well if you make the trip close to the beach.
At Carrboro, junior running back Trai Sharp has BCS offers already in hand and teammate wide receiver Marlin Johnson has been drawing attention from some recruiters as well.
You’ll have to wait a week to see Southern High star prospects Kendall Hinton (QB), Maurice Trowell (WR) and William Cameron (RB), but they’ll be on display when the Spartans host Hillside at Durham County Memorial Stadium Aug. 30.
None of tonight’s games are conference games, but because of realignment, several traditional rivalry games are on tap. Granville Central is at cross-county rival Webb and Carrboro faces old Carolina 12 foe Cedar Ridge.
East Chapel Hill and Northwood have a special tie or two this year. Last year’s ECH head coach, Bill Renner, is the new offensive coordinator for Bill Hall at Northwood and will likely have a major impact on the Chargers’ passing game. The quarterback Renner groomed as a freshman last season — Connor Stough — takes the starting reins fulltime for ECH tonight.