There hasn’t been a league like the Northern Athletic Conference before. It essentially brings together the largest schools in the I-540 corridor: Wake Forest, Heritage, Wakefield and Rolesville in northern Wake County, Knightdale in eastern Wake County and, not far across the county line, Corinth Holders in northern Johnston County.
To win the NAC, you’ll have to get familiar with names like White Street and Forestville Road, because the league runs through the town of Wake Forest.
Wake Forest High is the defending 4AA champion, the first Wake County school to win the state title in football since 1987, and the Cougars are everyone’s preseason No. 1 pick. But crosstown rival Heritage is no slouch either. The Huskies have Division I talent to match the Cougars, and both of last year’s meetings were instant classics.
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After a trying last year of 3A, you might think the last thing the Pirates need is a move up to 4A. But don’t discount Corinth Holders. The Pirates have a lot of starters back from a team that lost four single-digit games. Offensive lineman Jacob Monk, all 290 pounds of him, is getting some heavy recruiting interest. Senior running back Mike Darden is a bowling ball in the backfield.
Last year: 3-9 (2-3 Two Rivers 3A)
Offense: Spread. Defense: 3-4.
Returning Starters: 7 offense, 7 defense.
Coaches: Guy Williams (HC), James Jenkins (WRs), Pete Clark (OL), Adam Weaver (QBs), James Faggert (DTs), Fred McLambe (LBs), Adam Kavari (DBs), Robert Himmell (OL), Dale (DL).
Contributors: Cole Canterbury (Jr. WR), Mike Darden (Sr. RB), Jacob Monk (Jr. OL), Larry Williams (Sr. OL).
Two of the Huskies’ three losses last year were close games to Wake Forest. Heritage has big-time offensive players in Duke recruit Gunnar Holmberg at quarterback and N.C. State recruit Ricky Person at running back. But the real strength of the Huskies will be in its defensive front seven, where Virginia Tech recruit Joe Kane and highly-recruited players Drake Thomas and Joseph Boletepeli line up.
Last year: 11-3 (5-2 Cap-8 4A)
Offense: Spread. Defense: 4-3.
Returning Starters: 5 offense, 5 defense.
Coaches: Dewayne Washington (HC), Jeremy Buck (OC), Wallace Clark (DC), Torry Holt (WRs), Billy Williams (Head JV), Lawrence Thames (DL), Mike Vassill (OL), Willie Parker (RBs), Okesa Smith (DBs), Brad Fournier (QBs), Allen Jackson, Terrell Richardson, Brandon McEachern (Weightlifting).
Contributors: Gunnar Holmberg (QB), Ricky Person Jr. (RB), Bryce Heindenger (OL), Michael Williamson (OL) ,Trent Scott (OL), Joe Kane (DL), Randy Davis (DL), Drake Thomas (LB), David Blackmond (DB), Jaedon Williams (DB).
The Knights were behind the 8-ball last year as Anthony Timmons came over near the end of summer to take over the program. An extra year at the helm may pay off this season. Tight end Anthony Tuazama is one of the top players at his position in the state.
Last year: 2-9 (2-5 Greater Neuse 4A)
Head coach: Anthony Timmons
Wash, rinse and repeat the Knightdale outlook. The Rams are also hoping for some payoff as they enter the second year with a head coach hired very close to the start of last season. Wilson Helms has a young team this season, however, after last year’s senior-led team narrowly missed the postseason.
Last year: 4-7 (3-4 Greater Neuse 4A)
Head coach: Wilson Helms
New coach Brandon Kelley comes from Virginia, where he worked to get a hard-luck program to a new level of respectability. He’ll have no such uphill battle at Wakefield, which has never missed the playoffs. After Wake Forest and Heritage, the league looks wide open, so the Wolverines could aim for third. Offensive lineman Timothy McKay is one of the top centers in the state.
Last year: 6-6 (3-4 Cap-8 4A)
Head coach: Brandon Kelley
Wake Forest’s defense has gotten the headlines in the past, but this year’s offensive group could be the Cougars’ best since the team began making runs to state title games (four times since 2010). Devon Lawrence and Marquis Dunn both have Division I offers as running backs as do Javon Terry (committed to UNC) and Jon Jiles in the secondary. Linebacker Seth Williams, defensive end Jaden McKenzie and nose guard Jadacus Logan give the Cougars back several of last year’s star defensive players despite losing a N.C. AP Defensive Player of the Year for the second straight season.
Last year: 16-0 (7-0 Cap-8 4A)
Offense: Wing-T. Defense: 3-4-4.
Returning Starters: 10 offense, 6 defense.
Coaches: Reggie Lucas (HC), Hancel Phipps (OC), Glendon Dillard (Head JV/RBs), Jamie Holland (WRs), Rodney Ray (OL), Joe Micchia (QBs), Bryan McClintock (RBs), Ivan Braszo (DC/DBs), Blake Brooks (DL).
Contributors: Chris James (QB), Devon Lawrence (RB), Marquis Dunn (RB), Demarcus Jones (FB), Lex Goodwin (WR), James Frye (C), Sam DeLuke (OG), Domenic Cesta (OG), Josh King (OT), Josh Kruger (OT), Javon Terry (CB), Jon Jiles (CB), Drew Homchek (FS), Connor Loeffler (FS), Seth Williams (LB), Jadacus Logan (DT), Jaden Mckenzie (DE).