RALEIGH — Leesville Road, last years Cap Eight 4A champion, is back with some new players, but the same system.
Were not going to change, said head coach Chad Smothers. We have new names playing, but were not going to change our identity. Were going to play the style of football we played last year.
Leesville Road reached the 2011 NCHSAA 4AA quarterfinals after going undefeated in the regular season.
While many opponents will be gunning to dethrone the Pride this year, Smothers said theyve felt similar pressure for several years now.
We had an extremely successful year last year, but weve had a very successful program over the last seven or eight years, so I dont think theres any more of a bullseye (this year) than there has been in the past, Smother said.
Rather than feeling the heat, Smothers said this years team, which includes a number of new starters, is excited and ready to step up to the challenge.
The Pride graduated its entire offensive line from last year along with top running back D.J. Hunt, who rushed for more than 1,500 yards and scored 32 touchdowns in 2011.
They are also looking for someone to fill the role of quarterback Austin Berrios, who shared conference player of the year honors with Wakefields Connor Mitch. Berrios completed 47 of 77 passes for nearly 100 yards per game last year. He also returned kicks and was a running threat.
Youre not going to replace him, Smothers said. Kids like that dont come around very often.
A week before the season opener, Smothers is still sorting through options behind center.
Three players, senior Evan Parker and juniors Braxton Berrios and Malcolm Hitchcock, are in the running for the starting QB spot.
Parker, who was the starting quarterback for Sanderson last year, transferred to Leesville Road for his senior season.
Braxton Berrios assumed the role of quarterback for the Pride in the playoffs last year after his older brother tore his ACL.
Hitchcock was the Prides backup quarterback for much of last season
With any of the three guys playing, were a very different team, Smothers said. They all have different talents they bring to the table.
Smothers said he isnt in a rush to name a permanent starter and hasnt ruled out rotating the quarterback spot and showing two or three different looks at the position in a game.
Each of the quarterback candidates can play other positions, so while Smothers isnt set on a decision, hes sure all three will start on offense.
Other key players for the Pride will be senior defensive lineman and wide receiver Derahjai Robinson, offensive lineman Drake Edwards, defensive end and linebacker Selo Kuvuna, defensive end Michael Williams and linebacker Tucker Bell.
We still have a lot of question marks as a football team, Smothers said. Were a work in progress. Well get better each and every day. Its going to be a fun year.