The Greater Neuse River 4A Conference looks more like the conference of old than it resembles the 2013 season.
That’s mainly because defending champion Knightdale is in full transition mode and perennial power Garner appears to be poised to return to its role as conference favorite. But five teams finished within a game of third place last fall and there are reasons to like all of those teams’ chances to make the playoffs this season.
“It’s the Greater Neuse River Conference; you don’t know for sure what you’re going to get each week,” said East Wake coach John Poulnott, who is entering his fifth year at the helm and is the conference’s most-tenured head coach. “You just know night in and night out, you’re going to be in for a battle.”
Defending conference champion Knightdale (9-2, 6-0) has a new coach, Cedric Dargan, and only four starters returning from the school’s first conference championship-winning football team.
“I think the conference race is a toss-up,” said Clayton coach Randy Pinkowski who begins his second year at the Comets’ helm. “Knightdale and Southeast are dealing with coaching chances but they’ve had success in the past and you know they’re going to be very athletic. Harnett Central will be improved, West Johnston is headed in the right direction and Garner seems to reload.
“I think the team to beat could be East Wake; they’re the sleeper, if you will.”
The sleeper superstar in the conference – and when you have a returnee like Garner’s Nyheim Hines and his 60 touchdowns everybody is a sleeper category – is East Wake runner Damontay Rhem. The all-conference selection ran for 1,360 yards last season.
Garner (10-4, 5-2) made a solid playoff run last year despite struggling on defense. The Trojans say that unit will be much improved and the offense has the potential to be high scoring with Hines leading the way.
Michael Thibodeau takes over at Southeast Raleigh (4-7, 3-3), which has talented junior quarterback Dylan Parham (6-foot-5, 200), who has a scholarship offer from N.C. State. Cameron Marshmon is another Bulldog to watch and will line up at slotback and cornerback.
West Johnston (4-7, 2-4) will be led by one of the league’s most versatile players, quarterback/linebacker Cameron Williams.
“He’ll play defense because we need to win,” said West Johnston coach Jimmy Williams. “He’s a special athlete with good speed, and is very physical. I wish I had a team full of Cameron Williamses.”
Harnett Central is coming off of a disappointing season (1-9, 0-6), but added former South Johnston head coach Joe Salas as offensive coordinator. Salas led South Johnston to the state 3AA championship game in 2009.
Rolesville played a junior varsity schedule in 2013. The Rams, who went 2-5 in the league in junior varsity last year, will develop experience against a nonconference slate that includes Lee County, Panther Creek, Heritage and 2013 state 4AA finalist Wake Forest.
Mike Potter contributed.