After going 27-4 and undefeated in the Piedmont Athletic Conference over the past two years, Durham Hillside has earned the right to be considered the presumptive favorite in the PAC-6 football race.
“It most definitely feels like we’ve got a target on our back, but that comes with the territory,” Hillside coach Antonio King said last week. “A lot of people want to become champions, and they know to be the champion you have to be the champion.”
The Hornets, No. 3 in the News & Observer’s preseason top 20, lost 24 players off last year’s 11-2 conference champions, but they return a massive front line that is expected to open big holes for a deep and talented backfield.
Tailback Khris Francis, committed to UNC-Chapel Hill, ran for 2,300 yards and 30 touchdowns in 2011. Donte Thomas-Williams and Dequan Scott will share with playing time with Francis.
The Hornets also have plenty of experienced receivers returning to work with new quarterback Cinco Williams, even without all-conference end Josh MacNeil, who opted to graduate early in summer school and is off for a postgrad year in prep school.
All-conference wideout Travion Thompson and tight end Jaiven Knight figure big in Hillside’s plans.
All-conference strong safety Korrin Wiggins, another UNC recruit, is the leader of the Hornets defense. Corners Uriah Sutton and Eric Young have looked good in preseason workouts, and King is even happier with how solid his defensive front looks.
All-conference lineman Dwight Campbell is working out well at linebacker, King said.
No one wants to unseat the Hornets more than Southern Durham, ranked No. 19. The Spartans were the last PAC-6 team to defeat Hillside and won the conference championship in 2009.
One of the biggest keys for Southern will be how fast sophomore quarterback Kendall Hinton grows into the role vacated by graduated all-conference QB Dorian Belcher. He’ll be helped by the Spartans’ big line, led by a pair of all-PAC-6 returnees – tackle Jalen Peterkin (6-foot-2, 295 pounds) and center Tyrus Page (6-foot-2, 280). They’re expected to open big holes for junior running back Joel Evans.
“It’s always been us and Hillside, Hillside and us, for the past few years,” Southern coach Adrian Jones said. “But there are other good teams in our conference that we have to worry about.”
East Chapel Hill (3-8, 3-3) was the surprise of the PAC-6 last year behind the record-setting passing combination of quarterback Drew Davis and all-state wideout Alex Moore. Senior quarterback Ben Jones will try to recapture some of that magic with a flock of returning wideouts like Luke Arlotto, Troy Mitchell and Jackson Boyer, who is the state’s top returning receiver after catching 99 passes last year.
East will have an improved defense in 2012. Lanky Kevin Mangel gives the ’Cats defense good speed on the flank.
Jordan will try to bounce back from its worst season (3-8, 2-4) since 2004. First-year head coach LeDwaun Harrison will be working with a sophomore quarterback, Matt Gampe, and may rely on a ground game built around college prospect John Brown and junior Raheem Winston.
Roxboro Person is also coming off one of its worst seasons ever (1-10, 0-6) with a new head coach – Doug Robertson, who went 36-7 as the leader in Reidsville.
Northern Durham will have to develop some depth this year to catch up with the top two teams.