Every coach in the PAC-6 4A knows his biggest game this year will be against Durham Hillside.
“The championship has to go through Hillside,” Roxboro Person coach David Kleine said recently. “Just look at their numbers, the quality of their players, the quality of their coaching.”
Hillside picked up its 29th straight win against PAC-6 4A opponents in 2013 during a 9-4, 5-0 finish.
The Hornets return nine starters on offense, led by quarterback Nas Forte-Ferguson, and seven on defense.
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“Hillside has eight to nine kids who will play college football,” said Riverside coach Chris Howell. “We know most of the athletes in this area want to go to Hillside and Southern (Durham), and they get those kids. That’s just the way it is.”
Since Antonio King arrived as coach in 2009, Hillside has gone 53-12, won five PAC-6 4A titles and claimed a 2010 state championship when the Hornets finished 16-0.
Hillside has averaged 33.4 points a game since King’s first season, but the defense has been outstanding. Last year, Hillside gave up 14.5 points a game.
Offensive tackle Emanuel McGirt (6-foot-5, 271 pounds), who has committed to North Carolina, is the biggest name on a big offensive line that’s dominated by seniors who’ve played together in 35 varsity games.
Hillside also has All-PAC-6 4A selections in senior defensive back Jalon Bethea, linebacker/defensive end Markus Crutchfield and linebacker Keith Beasley.
Hillside’s strengths turn the PAC-6 4A into a race for the remaining playoff spots, said Kleine, and he’d like to see Person’s Rockets in the mix.
Riverside isn’t conceding anything, said Howell. The Pirates (8-4, 4-1) were the only other PAC-6 4A team to finish last year with a winning record, and they’re the only other conference team to play for a state championship this century.
Howell said he’s tired of hearing about Hillside.
“Yes, they’re favored to beat everyone again. They’re better than sliced bread. They’ve got a zillion athletes who are all going to play in college,” Howell said. “I don’t care. We’re not scared of them.”
Riverside quarterback Dianté Strothers is returning and the veteran defensive line averages 263 pounds a player. “Everyone of them will end up playing in college,” said Howell, a former defensive coordinator.
Northern Durham (3-9, 3-2) started 0-6 last season under first-year coach R.J. Wilson, facing six playoff teams, including state champions Southern Durham and Greensboro Dudley. Northern Durham went 3-2 in conference play.
Trevon Tapp, who accounted for more than 2,000 all-purpose yards and 23 of Person’s 33 touchdowns last year as its quarterback, now is at Northern Durham.
Without Tapp, Person (3-8, 1-4) will turn to junior Antonio Williams at quarterback. He’ll look to connect with all-conference wideout Corey Young or hand off to all-conference running back Taymon Smith.
East Chapel Hill (3-8, 2-3) and first-year coach Mike Holderman were dealt two blows before preseason workouts with all-conference receiver Arkavious Parks’ transfer to arch-rival Chapel Hill and quarterback Sean Moore’s decision to concentrate on club baseball. Sophomore Brater Gerber is learning on the job at quarterback.
In his second year at Jordan (1-10, 0-5), LeDwaun Harrison actually is the conference’s most experienced head coach after Hillside’s King. Decimated by graduations, the Falcons will need to find several new backs and receivers, not to mention offensive linemen to help returning quarterback Matt Gampe.