Though just in his second year as Middle Creek head coach, Randy Ragland has been around the Mustangs program enough in his previous stint to know what big expectations feel like.
After last year’s undefeated run, fueled by underclassmen, ended in the 4AA East final, nothing compares to the expectations the Mustangs are feeling now.
Middle Creek starts the year ranked No. 1 in The News & Observer’s 17-county area rankings, which is where it left off last season. Only four starters graduated.
“Like we’re preaching now, 2015 is over, and we’ve got to move forward to 2016,” Ragland said. “This may be bigger than any year I’ve been here, with the expectations for this team coming back, because we have so many guys coming back from last year’s team. Everyone said we were a year ahead of the plan.”
How is Middle Creek handling the expectations?
“I can’t say the pressure hasn’t already gotten to some coaches and kids. It’s been a little bit more intense at times. I think they’re a little bit more serious than they have (been) because they got a taste of it last year getting to the eastern finals and nobody was happy about the way we lost,” Ragland said. “We’re almost too uptight about it at this point. I would like us to be more relaxed about it.”
Who are players to watch?
Dominique Shoffner won the starting job during Week 1 of last season and the Mustangs weren’t the same again. He threw for 2,801 yards (27 TDs, 19 interceptions) and ran for 11 TDs. De’Andre Jones ran for 981 yards and 11 TDs, and wideouts Riley Frederikson, Shammond Hicks and Dareke Young (injured to start the year) are all capable of the big play.
Bobby Marschewski (also injured to start the year) is one of the area’s best offensive linemen. The defensive line returns everyone, led by George Maya, and the linebacking corps is stout with John Singleton and Connor Cheyunski. Daniel Jackson had 11 interceptions at safety.
Rasheed Martin, who sat out last year, is expected to make an impact on both sides of the ball at corner and wideout.
What are the biggest obstacles?
First, the offensive line will need to gel quickly.
Secondly, the Mustangs’ nonconference schedule might be the toughest in the Triangle. Wakefield was picked to tie for second in the Cap-8, Garner to win the Greater Neuse River and Rocky Mount is coming off its 3A state title.
Middle Creek could be as good as advertised and still go anywhere from 3-0 to 0-3 against that group. The Mustangs will be judged on how they do this November – and with a little luck, December as well.
More on the Mustangs
Last year: 14-1 (7-0 Southwest Wake 4A), 4AA East final
Five year average: 11-3 (7-1)
Preseason N&O rank: No. 1
Coaches: Randy Ragland (HC), Joseph Calabria (Assistant HC/OL), Kyle Doll (WR/OC), Kendal Ray (Assistant HC/DL), Marcello Royal (RBs), Jeff Rider (JV head coach/WRs), Brad Freeman (DL), Frederick Dunston (LBs), Chris Lanier (LBs), Nate Harris (DBs)
Contributors: Dominique Shoffner (Sr., QB), De’Andre Jones (Jr., RB), Shammond Hicks (Sr., WR), Dareke Young (Sr., WR), Riley Frederiksen (Sr., WR), Bobby Marschewski (Sr. OL), George Maya (Sr., DL), Josh Drake (Sr., DL), John Singleton (Sr., LB), Connor Cheyunski (Jr., LB), Rasheed Martin (Jr. WR/DB), Daniel Jackson (Sr., S)
The main number: 2 – the Mustangs have hosted two 4AA East finals in the last three seasons.
Aug. 19 vs. Wakefield, 7 p.m.
Aug. 26 at Rocky Mount, 7 p.m.
Sep. 2 vs. Garner, 7 p.m.
Sep. 9 BYE
Sep. 16* vs. Panther Creek, 7 p.m.
Sep. 23* vs. Athens Drive, 7 p.m.
Sep. 30* at Cary, 7 p.m.
Oct. 7* vs. Holly Springs, 7 p.m.
Oct. 13#* vs. Fuquay-Varina, 7 p.m.
Oct. 21* at Apex Friendship, 7 p.m.
Oct. 28* at Green Hope, 7 p.m.
Nov. 4* at Apex, 7 p.m.
Note: *Conference game; #Thursday game.