The fourth-most tenured football coach in the Tri-9 Conference is Green Hopes Kwame Dixon. Hes entering his second year.
The recent coaching overhaul is the first thing that stands out about this years league. Five teams changed coaches, with three retirements and two others leaving for other jobs.
Joe Kilby is Apexs second coach in 20 years, Holly Springs welcomes former Leesville Road assistant Will Orbin, Athens Drive promoted assistant Chris Martin, Middle Creek hired Mike Castellano out of the college coaching ranks, and Panther Creek plucked Middle Creeks Sean Crocker.
Its kind of weird coming into a season not knowing what youre going to be facing, said Carys Ben Kolstad, entering his 10th season. They talk like there are some pretty good coaches coming in, so itll be interesting.
And though theres some idea as to which teams will be on top of this years conference four are ranked in the N&Os preseason top 20 there is also an unpredictability in week-to-week game planning.
We kind of threw away all the old scouting reports from year-to-year, Fuquay-Varina coach Ryan Habich said. Itll definitely be a fun year for us.
As far as who will win the Tri-9, history favors either Fuquay-Varina or Middle Creek or both. Last year they shared the conference title, though Middle Creek won the head-to-head battles in the regular season and postseason. The last time neither clinched at least a share of the conference title was 2004.
Middle Creek (10-4) brings back most of its powerful offense, including receiver Quinton Ray, but has youth on defense and a new coach. Fuquay-Varina (10-2) returns just five starters but is confident new playmakers will emerge. The Bengals are asking Garrett Suggs (15 interceptions in last two years) to play both sides of the ball.
Cary, coming off its second straight 9-3 finish, just missed being a co-conference champ in each of the past two seasons. The Imps return five starters on each side. Linebacker Anthony Konieczka leads a defense that has been the conferences best the past three years.
Panther Creek (8-4) knows Crocker well, as he posted a 5-1 record against the Catamounts in his five years at Middle Creek. The Catamounts are adjusting to more shotgun formations, but have an proven running back in David Mayaka and a strong offensive line led by Mike Sutton.
Athens Drive (5-7) returns more starters than any conference playoff team. The Jaguars have last years first team all-conference quarterback (Jason West) and second team all-conference offensive lineman (Zach Willon).
Lee County (4-6) returns quarterback Chase Arrington and offensive lineman Brian Stryffler from a team that won three conference games by a combined nine points.
Apex (1-7-1) and Holly Springs (2-8) lost a lot of seniors. Green Hope (2-9) snapped a 37-game losing streak last year, but Dixons team, led by linebacker Terry Whitehead, has two more nagging losing streaks at home (25) and in the conference (36). They have enough returning starters to make snapping both a reasonable goal.
Blake: 919-460-2606 or twitter.com/JMBpreps