Leesville Road is the favorite to win the Cap Eight 4A crown this year. Led by senior standout Braxton Berrios, the Pride is the team to beat among a field of strong contenders, up-and-comers and unknowns.
The Pride’s top competition are likely to be two teams to the north – Wake Forest and Heritage.
“It’s going to be a night-in night out (battle),” said Leesville coach Chad Smothers. “It’s going to be a challenge for whoever wins the conference, but I think Heritage is going to be very, very good. They return a lot of key players from last year. Wake Forest will be well-coached and will play great defense and control the game with their offense.”
Wake Forest (9-3, 5-2), ranked among the area’s top-scoring offenses and defenses in 2012, returns several players from last year’s team.
The Cougars return several starters, but lack depth entering the season, said Wake Forest coach Reggie Lucas.
“If you look at our schedule and overall how the conference has improved, I think our conference has hired great coaches, and everybody seems like they're going in the right direction,” Lucas said.
Both Broughton and Sanderson have new leadership with coaches promising a culture change.
Sanderson head coach Ben Kolstad took over the Spartans (2-9, 1-6) after leading Cary High to a 65-46 record over nine years.
Former Broughton assistant Billy Lane will lead the Caps (2-9, 2-5) in his first head coaching stint.
Enloe (1-10, 1-6) will look to continue improving under second-year head coach Mike Massey.
Heritage (6-6, 4-3) has made significant advances in its two years as a varsity program. The Huskies return many key players after giving front-runner Leesville its closest contest of the season last year. The Pride held off Heritage in a 17-14 mid-season matchup.
“Leesville has obviously been a very good team and has an outstanding athlete, Braxton Berrios, and a great coach, Chad Smothers,” Heritage coach Jason McGeorge said. “They’re obviously the top dog and everyone is hunting for them.”
No team in the Cap Eight will be a cakewalk though, he added.
“Wakefield and Millbrook always have solid teams who can beat you,” McGeorge said.
Wakefield (11-2, 6-1) graduated quarterback Connor Mitch and receiver Jordan Fielleteau, its two offensive stars. The Wolverines won’t air it out as much, second-year head coach Rod Sink said, although the Wolverines will play a style similar to last year.
Millbrook (3-8, 2-5) will be led by quarterback Lemar Harris, who recently committed to Wake Forest University.
“Each night you better be ready to play,” Lucas said. “ If we survive each other, it prepares us for the playoffs, and that's what everybody likes.”