Those looking for top-level talent might have to add a new destination to their Friday night plans this year – the Northern Carolina 2A Conference.
The conference, which featured a down-to-the-wire title race between Bunn, Roanoke Rapids and Franklinton last year, also features two of the top 15 college recruits in the state.
North Carolina commitment Nazair Jones (6-foot-5, 250 pounds, rated 13th in the state by scout.com) is a standout defensive lineman for Roanoke Rapids, while Bunn receiver/linebacker Jonathan Alston (6-3, 200) has scholarship offers from ACC, SEC schools and Notre Dame.
But when the championship battle begins, several teams figure to be in the chase once again.
Alston is one of 16 starters back from a 9-4 Bunn team, which went 6-1 in the league last year along with Roanoke Rapids.
The Yellow Jackets (8-4) need to replace eight starters on defense and much of its offensive line, but don’t expect them to finish too far from the top.
“Roanoke Rapids just keeps having great teams,” Bunn coach Chris Miller said. “It has a great coach and it seems to always have a great player. They put a college-size offensive line on the field. It is sort of amazing.”
After topping North Johnston in a wild 55-40 regular-season contest, Roanoke Rapids fell to the Panthers 12-7 in the first round of the 2A playoffs.
“It’s a wide open league; you look at what happened with us last year against Roanoke Rapids,” North Johnston coach Scott Meserve said. “We were a big play away from beating them in the regular season, then beat them in the playoffs. That shows you how tight it is.”
The Panthers graduated 15 seniors and were two wins – the contest against Roanoke Rapids and a 30-29 loss to Franklinton – from creating a four-way tie for the league championship. North will feature good young size with five junior or sophomore projected starters checking in at 220 pounds or more.
Franklinton should be in the title chase again with 12 starters back from a 10-win squad. The Rams will be one of the more athletic teams in the league with running back Tank Yarborough and lineman Justin Puett leading the run game.
Louisburg has concerns on both lines but otherwise returns the majority of its lineup.
Northwest Halifax and Warren County finished with four wins last season.
Corinth Holders will play its first season with the benefit of a senior class. The Pirates were outscored 197-40 in their first four games last season and finished 0-11 in their first varsity season.
Coach Barry Honeycutt said his team had a good off-season, adding strength, but will still be at a size and speed disadvantage on most nights in conference games.
Games to watch
• Sept. 21: Bunn at Roanoke Rapids: The two league’s co-champions from 2011 meet, both sporting one of the top-ranked prospects in the state.
• Sept. 28: Roanoke Rapids at N. Johnston: North upset Roanoke Rapids in the opening round of the 2A playoffs after a regular-season loss to the Yellow Jackets. Think the visitors have had this one circled since the schedule came out?
• Oct. 5: Franklinton at Bunn: Franklinton begins a two-week stretch against Bunn and Roanoke Rapids with this one. Last year, a close loss to Bunn was followed by a horrible outing against Roanoke. First step in preventing that cycle is a win over Bunn.