It’s time for Pat Moser to start over again.
All that’s left to replace is the most successful four-year class in modern Orange history, one that didn’t win as much as it resurrected football on the northeast edge of Hillsborough.
When Orange’s Class of 2014 started as freshmen, crosstown rival Cedar Ridge held control on the northern Orange County gridiron. The Red Wolves had defeated the Panthers three straight times and made it to the 2AA Eastern Regional Championship game in 2010.
In the last three seasons, Orange went 35-7 (3-0 against Cedar Ridge by a combined score of 141-20), 16-3 in league play with three straight second-place finishes in their conference. The Panthers also had seven playoff wins.
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Keep in mind before 2012, the Panthers had only one winning season since 1993 and only two playoff wins between 1986-2008.
How will Moser replace 26 seniors who have graduated (seven of whom were all-conference)? Who can replace quarterback Garrett Cloer, who went 24-4 in two years as a starter? Who will step in for Tay Jones and Michael Bolden, the team’s top two touchdown producers since 2013?
35-7 Orange’s overall record for the past three seasons
spanOrange’s number of winning seasons, 1993-2012
spanThe number of seniors graduated in 2015
“It was hard to see them graduate,” said Moser.
The offseason brought an unexpected question regarding rising senior Bryse Wilson. An all-conference linebacker and MaxPreps All-American in baseball who committed to UNC in 2014, Wilson is expected to be drafted next summer by a Major League team. So would he bother to spend his senior season with football?
Moser says the answer is yes.
“I’ve talked with his dad (Chad Wilson, a 1990 Orange graduate) and Bryce, and they expect him to be drafted,” said Moser. “But Bryce loves football and he’s still getting attention from ACC school for football. I don’t think he’s going to give that up.”
As for new faces, rising junior Jackson Schmid is expected to take over at quarterback from Cloer, who now plays at Cornell University.
“Jackson has been with the junior varsity team for the last two years,” said Moser. “He has developed very nicely. He’s 6-foot-2, has very good weight room habits. He’s very smart and cautious, and extremely talented. I feel very good about him.”
I know we lost a lot, but this group that’s coming up, they expect to win.
Jones, who is moving on to a junior college in California, will be replaced by rising senior Eryk Brandon-Dean, who started five games at running back in Moser’s Wing-T system in 2014. Jordan Farrington will try to fill the shoes of Michael Bolden, a departed fullback.
Three offensive lineman, including all-conference selections Jace-Jordan Cornell and Austin Sykes, are back.
All four starting defensive lineman also graduated. Stone Edwards, who was a junior varsity player last season purely for the sake of playing time, will be among the players Moser relies on most to pressure opposing quarterbacks.
The strength of the team is expected to be linebacker. Wilson’s younger brother Peyton, who made his varsity debut as a freshman in the second-round of the playoffs last season against Corinth Holders, will likely start. All-conference player Drew Lemaster will also be back.
Regularly a linebacker, Lemaster started the first two games at running back last season, registering a 100-yard game at Northern Durham, Orange’s first-ever win over the Knights at Durham County Stadium.
“These might be the best group of linebackers I’ve ever coached,” Moser said.
For now, the biggest question of all is what is Moser’s expectations?
Chapel Hill figures to have the most experience with quarterback Connor Stough back. It doesn’t hurt the Tigers ended the Southern Durham run in the 3AA state playoffs, losing to eventual state champion Northern Guilford in December.
“I have to be very careful when I answer this,” Moser said. “Our expectations – not just mine but our coaches and our players – we expect to win. I know we lost a lot, but this group that’s coming up, they expect to win. We’ve got a good enough team to win. Our expectations are the same. We want to win the conference, make the playoffs and see where we go from there.”
Last five years
2014: 12-2 (6-1), 3AA third round
2013: 12-2 (6-1), 3AA third round
2012: 11-3 (4-1), 3A East final
2011: 6-6 (3-2), 3AA first round
2010: 2-9 (1-4)