The greatest accomplishment by Cardinal Gibbons in high school football may not be its 34-7 record over the three previous years or its three straight Carolina 3A Conference championships. The Crusaders’ finest triumph may be in avoiding the deadly sin of pride.
Cardinal Gibbons has yet to lose a conference game since it entered the Carolina 3A in 2009. The win streak is now at 15-0 and counting in Carolina-6 games.
“It’s not a matter of pride necessarily,” second-year Crusaders head coach Steven Wright said. “It’s really a tradition that’s now been established by previous teams, and it has grown into a set of expectations for our players.”
Perennial challengers Chapel Hill and Orange once again look like contenders, as does unpredictable and talented Southern Vance. But until someone can knock off the Crusaders, they’re the favorites once again in the Carolina-6.
To stop Cardinal Gibbons, a defense must first stop All-Carolina-6 running back Ben Grazen, one of the area’s speediest players with his 4.4 time in the 40. He rushed for 1,608 yards and 21 touchdowns last year, while Cardinal Gibbons scored 428 points (32.9 a game) – more than 100 more than any other team in the conference.
Whether it’s Shawn Stankavage or Dante DiMaggio who succeeds all-conference quarterback John Burton, he’ll have the luxury of lining up behind a tough offensive line..
Wright will be counting on preseason all-state nominee Nick Carroll to lead at defensive tackle, and linebacker Scott Washle will be a key as Gibbons tries to do without all-conference end Matt Skowron, (now at Princeton) and linebacker Connor Prevost (Navy).
Southern Vance will be the biggest blip on the Crusaders’ radar. The Raiders’ biggest asset — literally — will be the huge front line of Ja’Quez Bullock (6-8, 350), Anthony Jennings (6-0, 340), Robert Peoples (5-7, 323) and junior center Xavier Fields (6-0, 220).
With a new head coach, Lewis Young, and without the class of 2012’s top rusher, Miles Clifton, Southern Vance will rely on the familiar brother combo of quarterback De’Vante Henderson and wideout Christopher Henderson to maintain its consistency.
Northern Vance, 5-28 since joining the Carolina 3A, also has a new head coach, Eric Watkins.
No coach has more experienced players returning than Pat Moser at Orange. The Panthers have eight starters back on offense and seven on defense from last year’s 6-6 team. Eight of them were named all-conference in 2011, including quarterback Sean Motley and the team’s leading rusher, Patrick Pettiford (1,096 yards).
Other all-conference players returning for Orange include running back Jalen Pittman and his twin, linebacker and wideout Jamal Pittman, defensive backs J.D. Brooks and Jerome Brooks (no relation), defensive lineman Jake Frederick and punter Jon Evans.
Every team in the Carolina-6 is keeping an eye on Chapel Hill and its fourth-year quarterback T.J. Johnson. Despite the Tigers’ many talents on offense – including running backs Jamarius Jones and Darius Allen, plus a panoply of wide receivers – a veteran defense could be Chapel Hill’s greatest strength.
Cardinal Gibbons and Fayetteville Douglas Byrd were Chapel Hill’s only opponents last year to score more than two touchdowns on the Tigers, who held everyone else to an average of 9.8 points per game. That helped Chapel Hill set a program record for wins in a season with its 10-3 finish.