BENSON — Football teams replacing 75 percent of their starting lineup would prefer not to face the non-conference schedule West Johnston has to open the season.
The Wildcats visit Tri-Nine 4A Conference power Fuquay-Varina on Aug. 17, then face their two biggest rivals, South Johnston and Cleveland, which was an Eastern finalist in 2011.
“Those first three games are huge for us,” said West head coach Randy Ragland. “They’re three good teams and two of them are our biggest rivals. If we can get through the bye week (after those three weeks) and still be healthy, we’ll be ready for the (Greater Neuse River) conference season.”
West ended up third in the Greater Neuse River 4A Conference last year, even though it played some of the season without standout quarterback Justin Carroll.
The Wildcats finished 7-4 (5-2 conference), falling in the first round of the playoffs in a monsoon game at Fayetteville Cape Fear. West’s chances for its first playoff win in school history were washed away by the weather.
Carroll (6-foot-5, 215 pounds, 4.59 in the 40) is one reason Wildcats hopes are high even without a lot of experience. Carroll threw for 1,609 yards (13 TDs) and ran for six touchdowns despite missing three games.
“We’re going to ride that bus,” Ragland said. “If we’re successful, he’s going to be a superstar. He’ll do a little bit of everything. It’s rare that you get the chance to coach a kid with the talent and leadership skills he has. He’s ‘Mr. Everything’ for us; he could line up at middle linebacker for us and be an impact player.”
Ragland raves about Carroll’s command of the offense, recalling a situation in the closing seconds of a seven-on-seven game this summer where Carroll never looked to the sideline to get a play signal from Ragland. Instead, he called the play on his own.
“It was what I would have called,” Ragland recalled. “He’s got as good a grasp on the offense as he possibly can at this point.”
Linemen Josh Banfalvy, who started as a sophomore, is back at left guard and senior right tackle Walter Dunn returns as well. Receiver Jonathan Stevens is the only other offensive skill player back aside from Carroll.
“I feel like it’s a talented bunch and a lot of potential there, but it’s going to be a young group as well,” Ragland said.