Durham Hillside's football team started four sophomores and a freshman along its offensive line last season, and they were backed up by three more sophomores.
"In other words, we were starting a junior varsity line against varsity competition," said new Hillside coach Antonio King, who was an assistant at the school in 2008.
The young blockers were outstanding, however. Hillside raced to a 12-2 record and reached the state 4-A semifinals before losing to Fayetteville Byrd, 9-7.
It was a freakish loss. Byrd missed a late field-goal attempt but was awarded another chance when Hillside was called for roughing the Byrd center, hitting him too quickly after the snap.
"The loss was a great learning opportunity for our team," King said. "We were devastated, of course. To have that call made at that point of the game was overwhelming.
"But we told the kids that the game showed that sometimes no matter how hard you try, it doesn't work out. The reward is in working hard and getting better."
King noted that in the Hillside community there are plenty of hard workers who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own.
"The football game is a real life lesson," King said.
The Hornets have back nine of their 11 offensive starters from 2008, having lost quarterback Corey Gattis and running back Desmond Scott, now Duke freshmen, to graduation.
King said he is confident in the replacements.
Vad Lee played wide receiver last season, accumulating 978 yards in receptions, but before that he had always played quarterback.
"He's going back to his natural position," King said. "He is such a great athlete that we needed to get him on the field some way last year. He turned out to be a great wide receiver, but he also is a great quarterback."
The Hornets are loaded but face a difficult schedule.
They open at home against Greensboro Grimsley, Danville (Va.) George Washington and Hope Mills South View. Hillside then travels to Fayetteville E.E. Smith and to defending state champion Greensboro Dudley.
The Hornets' journeys are unusual in an era teams try to limit travel expenses.
"We wanted to play good people," King said. "We made a lot of calls, and these were the teams that called back."
Hillside will scrimmage Friday night at Southern Lee in the Tramway Road Jamboree. Other teams scheduled to be there include Knightdale, Cameron Union Pines, Chapel Hill, Durham Jordan and Southern Lee.
Greater Neuse River surprise: Coaches from every sport from the Greater Neuse River Conference met at Clayton High on Tuesday night for barbecue and fried chicken, planning and a little fellowship.
The Greater Neuse get-together is one of the oldest traditions in the area. Ever since the days of the old 2-A Capital Area Conference, teams in the conference with Clayton have gathered in the preseason. The makeup of schools has changed a lot since the days schools such as Clayton, Smithfield, Millbrook, Garner, Fuquay-Varina and Benson attended.
The football coaches delivered a big surprise in their preseason voting.
Southeast Raleigh is expected to be one of the top teams in the state but was voted No. 2 in the league preseason rankings behind Garner, even though Garner has only one offensive starter and one defensive starter returning.
Southeast Raleigh received three first-place votes to Garner's two, but Garner outpolled the Bulldogs, 43 points to 38. (Eight points were given for first place, seven for second, six for third and so on.) West Johnston and Harnett Central each received one first-place vote.
The coaches' picks were Garner (43), Southeast Raleigh (38), West Johnston (31), Harnett Central (28), Clayton (18), Smithfield-Selma (17), Knightdale (12) and East Wake (10).
Triton picked in Eastern Carolina 3-A: Erwin Triton received five of six first-place votes as a clear preseason favorite in a poll of the Eastern Carolina 3-A. South Johnston received the other first-place vote.
The coaches' vote was Erwin Triton (25), Eastern Wayne (17), Pikeville Aycock (14), South Johnston (13), Southern Wayne (12) and North Lenoir (9).
Dixon undecided on future: Former University of North Carolina linebacker recruit Justin Dixon is investigating his options.
The 6-foot-3, 225-pound Smithfield-Selma standout signed with the Tar Heels but will not enroll this fall.
"Right now, I simply don't know what Justin is going to do," SSS coach Anthony Barbour said.
Dixon had investigated going to Chatham (Va.) Hargrave Military or a junior college. He also has interest in East Carolina, Barbour said, and Dixon has explored NCAA Division II programs, as well.
D.J. Bunn, Dixon's teammate at SSS, also signed with UNC but is expected to attend Hargrave.
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