Practices for high school football across the state begin on Thursday, when teams will begin the official 22-day countdown to their first games of the 2013 season on Aug. 23.
How teams fare during their conference schedules, of course, will determine how many games they play in November or December but trends start during the non-conference portions of every team’s season.
This year, thanks to realignment (done every five years by the NCHSAA to adjust for school’s growth), those non-conference slates have a very different look for almost every area team.
There are more “rivalry” games early in the season with five Johnston County teams moving into new conferences. So former late October or early November staples like Clayton vs. Smithfield-Selma and Corinth Holders vs. North Johnston will come in the first month of the season.
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There are a number of new “marquee” games as well, two of those feature Cleveland which takes on nearby schools Clayton and Garner for the first time in back-to-back weeks.
Garner has added its old rival back on the schedule in Cary, while Southeast Raleigh heads to South Carolina for a marquee game on Labor Day Weekend.
In the conference portion of the season, which begins Sept. 27 for the Carolina 1A and the Greater Neuse River 4A and Oct. 11 for the Two Rivers 3A and the Eastern Plains 2A, Cleveland and Corinth Holders will both meet Smithfield-Selma for the first time. Corinth Holders adds its first meeting with South Johnston as well.
But for now, the focus is on the non-conference portion, so here’s a look at each area’s teams early season schedule.
No longer viewed as a “new” school by the world of high school football, thanks to back-to-back double-digit win total seasons in its first two seasons of varsity play, Cleveland’s non-conference slate is one of the most wide-ranging in the Triangle.
One would be hard-pressed to come up with a more appealing August stretch of the schedule for a team than the Rams’ have: with their first meetings with nearby schools Clayton (Aug. 23) and Garner (Aug. 30). That’s followed up by a visit to rival West Johnston.
The Rams will meet a team to watch in 2013 on Sept. 13 in Green Hope, then travel to take on old Eastern Carolina 3A foe Southern Wayne on Sept. 20.
Cleveland’s non-conference slate wraps up with a visit from Durham Riverside.
In a quirk of scheduling the Rams have just four home games this season, but they’re not away from home for more than three weeks at any point.
The Trojans, who have gone 29-2 over the past two seasons, have a schedule that should make fans – young and old – happy.
Garner opens the season against rival Middle Creek, a match up of two of the top-20 ranked teams in the state by ncpreps.com. Garner is seventh in the poll, while the Mustangs rank 18th.
On Labor Day weekend, the Trojans get their first meeting with Cleveland, the top 3A program in the area.
Garner goes to Broughton on Sept. 6, then renews its old rivalry with Cary on Sept. 13. The schools once had one of Wake County’s best rivalries, but haven’t played in football since 2004. Running back Josh Adams, who went on to play at Wake Forest, led the Imps to a 27-23 regular-season victory over the Trojans and a 12-7 win in the 2004 playoffs.
Garner finishes up its non-league slate by hosting Enloe on Sept. 27.
The Bulldogs have maybe the toughest August portion of the schedule in the southeast. That’s the southeast of the United States.
Southeast Raleigh visits 4AA eastern regional champion Fayetteville Jack Britt on Aug. 23, then takes part in the Carolinas Kick Off Clash at Myrtle Beach High School on Saturday, Aug. 31.
The Bulldogs will meet Irmo (S.C.) Dutch Fork at 4:30. Dutch Fork, coached by Tom Knots, fell to Gaffney in the South Carolina High School League 4A-I state championship game last December, 34-22.
Southeast stays much closer to home the next week, taking on Enloe before hosting Wakefield on Sept. 13.
Then it’s a two-week break for the Bulldogs before Greater Neuse River 4A Conference play begins Oct. 4.
West Johnston stays inside of the Johnston County borders for the first three weeks of its first season under new head coach Jimmy Williams. It’s a trip to old conference rival Smithfield-Selma on Aug. 23, then home dates against South Johnston and Cleveland.
The Wildcats hit the road for the next two weeks against Fuquay-Varina and its first meeting with Hope Mills South View.
The Bulldogs’ non-conference schedule stretches from Aug. 23 until Nov. 1 thanks to a mix of Triangle Independent Schools Athletic Conference games and non-league games.
Wake Christian plays at Chatham Central to open the season and also visits High Point and Sampson County in September.
There are also non-league games on Oct. 4 (Harrells Christian), Oct. 17 (Fayetteville Christian) and Nov. 1 (Cannon School) slated for the Bulldogs.