There’s one new team in the South Wake Athletic Conference, and it’s the reason the league is no longer the “Southwest” Wake.
Garner enters the SWAC, which is losing its schools north of N.C. Highway 64 and Tryon Road – Green Hope, Panther Creek, Cary and Athens Drive. And with it, the league has four teams that were top-three in their conference last year. Garner won the Greater Neuse River and Middle Creek won the SWAC with Holly Springs and Fuquay-Varina close behind.
That could mean the SWAC is best top-to-bottom football conference in the Triangle. It certainly has a case when looking at those four, but it could seal the deal this year if Apex Friendship, which has its first class of seniors and returns all 22 starters, and Apex, which is also returning a number of starters, perform well in nonconference play.
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At times, Apex’s offense could really move the ball last year, and quarterback Duke Freuhauf and top wideout Wade Clayton are back to make that happen again. Coach Robert Graham is hoping this year’s group has the senior leadership to finish off the games that the Cougars were close to winning last year. Apex will not be at its usual campus this season or the next. As the school is torn down and built back into a four-story building, Apex High is in a temporary home at Green Level High, and that includes home football games.
Last year: 2-9 (2-6 Southwest Wake 4A)
Offense: Spread, Pro. Defense: Multiple, 3-5 stack.
Returning Starters: 8 offense, 7 defense.
Coaches: Robert Graham (HC), Wayne McKoy Jr. (OC/QBs/RBs), Fred Blanks (DC/WRs/DBs), Tyrance Coleman (DL), Jason White (OL), Marc Lackey (LBs), Greg Ames (LD), Brandon MCkoy (RBs).
Contributors: Julian Tate-Blanks (Sr. WR/DB), Jonathan Heavner (Sr. RB/LB), Duke Freuhauf (Sr. QB/FS), Anthony Barnes (Sr. WR/LB), Quentin Hunter-Colvin (Jr. RB/DB), Wade Clayton (Sr. WR), Andrew McCann (OL/DL), Jackson Marley (Jr. LB), Matthew Abel (Sr. OL/DL).
The Patriots won their first-ever varsity football game before losing nine straight with a roster of just juniors, sophomores and freshmen. This year, with a senior class, excitement abounds. Apex Friendship is strong with running backs and offensive linemen, like Zach Simpson. The nonconference schedule is manageable for a team that gets to say it brings every player back from a year ago.
Last year: 1-9 (0-7 Southwest Wake 4A)
Offense: Multiple Pistol Wing. Defense: Multiple, 3-4.
Returning Starters: 11 offense, 11 defense.
Coaches: Adam Sanders (HC), Sam Greene (Assistant HC/OL), Terry McNeill (DC), Frank Toms III (Head JV/LBs), Martin Munn (DBs), Jalen Wiley (WRs), Rob Fronk (ST/TEs), Eddie Mullins (RBs), Andrew Gibson (OLBs), Greg Pawluk (OLBs).
Contributors: Jacob Kelley (Sr. RB/LB), Luke Cerasi (Sr. DL/OL), Zach Simpson (Sr. OL/DL), Chase McPherson (Sr. OL/LS), Nate Antonik (Sr. TE/DL), Chris Gillis (Sr. DL/LB), Jaden Roundtree (Jr. WR/DB), Luke Hepburn (Jr. DB/WR), Dylan Elkins (Jr. QB), Drew Oliver (Jr. OL), Justin Reed (Soph. OLB/ TE), Scott Sidney (Soph. RB/DB).
While the focus may be on the league’s two conference champions being placed in the same league, Fuquay-Varina will be right there in the mix. The Bengals return three offensive linemen and all three running backs, and that’s usually a good sign. Quarterbacks Chris Canada and Parker Morrison are competing fo rthe quarterback position. The Bengals were young last year, starting 12 sophomores, and that should pay off this season.
Last year: 8-4 (6-2 Southwest Wake 4A)
Offense: Flexbone, Triple option. Defense: 3-5.
Coaches: Jeb Hall (HC), Tim Pauluzzi (QBs), Kenny Jones (RBs), Dale Lowe (OL), Ben Honeycutt (WRs), Jay Morgan (offensive assistant),, Eric Pulling (DC, LBs), Vincent Pratama (LBs), Neal Eichhorn (DBs), Derrick Redman (DL).
Contributors: Tyrus Townsend (RB), Tyrees Davis (CB), David Honeycutt (FB), Isaac Morgan (RB), Promise Harris (DL), D.J. McClain (LB), Chris Canada (QB), Parker Morrison (QB), Mike Dinatale (OL) Kyle Mott (K), J.C. Epp (TE), Matt Hernandez (LB), Chad Miller (Oline) Zac Cole (DL), Hunter Simo (DB), C.J. Scales (SS).
The only team to beat the Trojans last year was its top rival, Middle Creek. Garner has never shared a conference with the Mustangs – an oddity in any rivalry series – but this year that games gets the last-contest-of-the-season treatment. Garner lost some key players and will be young, but the talent is once again there to compete for a conference title, even in this new league. It’s the last year Garner’s home games will be at South Garner High, so make sure to keep that in mind before heading out to a game. Safety Daiveon Carrington was one of the state’s leaders in tackles for loss, and by far the leader among defensive backs.
Last year: 12-2 (7-0 Greater Neuse River 4A)
Head coach: Thurman Leach.
Contributors: Nolan McLean (Soph. QB), Donovan Evans (Sr. RB), Daiveon Carrington (Jr. S)
The Golden Hawks lost quite a few starters but have good talent, led by Air Force recruit Alex Luedeke, West Virginia recruit Bryce Wheaton and all-conference linebacker Jarrett Finch. Though the Golden Hawks are a bit young this year, the good news is that Garner and Middle Creek will be too, and Holly Springs has had the same coach for three years – a welcomed change that’s good news for any program hoping to establish continuity.
Last year: 7-5 (6-2 Southwest Wake 4A)
Offense: Spread, Pro spread offense. Defense: Multiple.
Returning Starters: 4 offense, 3 defense.
Coaches: Robert Furth (HC), Mike Kelly (QBs/Head JV), Bryan Peterson (OC/WRs), Ryan Doggett (DL), Ernest Joseph (OL), Jeff Fishback (DBs), R.J. Maness (OL/DL).
Contributors: Bryce Wheaton (Sr. WR/DB), Alex Luedeke (Sr. TE/DL), Jarrett Finch (Sr. LB), Isaiah Royal (Sr. RB), Austen Wiegers (Jr. WR), Kobe Weaver (Sr. RB), Michael Sredl (Sr. OL).
This year’s seniors have gone 22-0 over the last two regular seasons, and there’s enough talent in the hallways at Middle Creek to expect another successful season. But the Mustangs will be young. The defense will look to the leadership of Conner Cheyusnki, a three-year starter at inside linebacker, as well as Joey Maya. Rasheed Martin, De’Andre Jones and Jordan Mitchell are top returning playmakers, though Jake Caputo should also make an impact in his first year.
Last year: 14-1 (8-0 Southwest Wake 4A)
Offense: Spread. Defense: Multiple.
Coaches: Randy Ragland (HC), Kendal Ray (Asst. HC/DC/DL), Joey Calabria (Asst. HC/OL), Nate Harris (DB), Chris Lanier (LBs), Mark Pitcher, Brandon Poteat (OL), John Harward (WRs), Jeff Rider (Head JV/WRs), James Finn (RBs), Jim Cheyunski (LBs), Adam Cheyunski (LBs), Tyson Fernandez (DL).
Contributors: Jordan Mitchell (WR), Conner Cheyunski (MLB), Joey Maya (MLB), Rasheed Martin (DB/WR), Andrew Ihle (QB), De'Andre Jones (RB), Jake Patterson (OL), Jamonte Richardson (OL/DL), Ladre Alford (OL/DL), Jake Caputo (DB/WR), Tyren Belcher (DB), Harrison Rider (WR).