Last season’s 8-4 record would be hard to swallow for Lee County under any other circumstances. The defense allowed just 14 points per game, but the Yellow Jackets were clipped by 7, 10, 1 and 4 points respectively.
A first-round playoff loss at Wilson’s Hunt High came by just a 7-3 score.
But herein lies the good news: almost everyone on that defense – and offense – is back for Lee County.
Coach Burton Cates, who made it to three state championships in his days at Eastern Randolph, is entering his eighth year with the Yellow Jackets with 35 wins in the last four years. That’s the best four-year stretch since the school changed from Sanford Central in 1977.
“I’ve told them, before you can be really good, you’ve got to be consistent,” Cates said. “We’ve paid our dues long enough, so hopefully we can get over the hump.”
Who’s coming back? What’s the biggest loss?
Nine starters on defense and seven on offense gives Lee a good nucleus. There’s no replacement for Justin Bethea, a 1,000-yard receiver and one of the state’s top interception artists.
Will the offense improve?
A stronger running game is expected this year, allowing Jucobie Minter to move to wide receiver. Jerome Ferguson and Ethan West give Lee County some size and experience on the offensive line.
What makes the defense so successful?
“The chemistry was real good. We could run real well and we created turnovers,” said Cates.
Evan Wells had seven interceptions at safety and was joined by cornerback Patrick Foushee, linebackers Keaton Forbes and Jake Thomas and linemen J.L. Ledbetter and Jonathan Terrell on the all-conference team.
Anyone would take six returning all-conference players, but six from a defense that allowed 14 points per game is a pretty spot to be in.
More on the Yellow Jackets
Last year: 8-4 (3-3 Cape Fear Valley 3A), first round 3AA playoffs
Five year average: 8-4 (4-3)
Preseason N&O rank: Unranked
Contributors: Jory Perkins (Sr., QB), Jahmir Smith (Jr., RB), Jucobie Minter (Jr., WR), Ethan West (Sr., OL), Jerome Ferguson (Sr., OL), J.L. Ledbetter (Jr., DL), Jonathan Terrell (Jr., DL), Andrew Phillips (Sr., LB/K/P), Keaton Forbes (Jr., LB), Jake Thomas (Sr., LB), Patrick Foushee (Sr., CB), Evan Wells (Jr., S)
The main number: 286-115 – the career overall W-L record of Burton Cates, per CarolinaPreps.com.
Aug. 18# vs. Warren County 7:30 p.m.
Aug. 26 vs. Ben L. Smith, 7 p.m.
Sep. 2 at Laney, 7 p.m.
Sep. 9 vs. Western Harnett, 7 p.m.
Sep. 16 BYE
Sep. 23 at Northwood, 7 p.m.
Sep. 30* vs. Douglas Byrd, 7 p.m.
Oct. 7* at Terry Sanford, 7 p.m.
Oct. 14* vs. Gray’s Creek, 7 p.m.
Oct. 21* at Union Pines, 7 p.m.
Oct. 28* vs. Westover, 7 p.m.
Nov. 4* at Southern Lee, 7 p.m.
Note: *Conference game; #Thursday game.