The area’s longest-running conference by name is still going strong. The Cap-7 Conference this year eschews schools to its north and has almost all of the large high schools in Raleigh, bringing in Southeast Raleigh and Cardinal Gibbons this season (only Athens Drive and Wakefield are missing from making it a true Raleigh city limits league).
With realignment, there is no true defending champion. Sanderson was third in last year’s Cap-8, while newcomer Cardinal Gibbons was second in the PAC-6 and Southeast Raleigh was third in the Greater Neuse River Conference.
Cap-7 4A Conference
In the second season under coach Chris Dawson, the Capitals could surprise some teams. Dawson said “our worst spring practice this year was better than our best practice from last fall because our work ethic and discipline have improved exponentially.” Playmaker Tyair Smith, a Marshall recruit, was one of the top players in last year’s conference. The biggest question mark will be in the trenches.
Last year: 2-9 (0-7 Cap-8)
Offense: Spread. Defense: 4-3.
Returning Starters: 8 offense, 6 defense.
Coaches: Chris Dawson (HC/OC/QBs), Dorrian Stephens (Assistant HC/WRs), Jonathan McCoy (OL), Travis Wilson (RBs), Les Mercer (DC/LBs), Ron Wheeler (Safeties), Gerrick Suggs (CBs), Allen Lee (Head JV/DL), Charles Shook, Mike Warner, Walt Brown.
Players to Watch: Tyair Smith (Sr. WR/OLB), Avi Smith-Rose (Sr. OL/DL), Jalen Bobbitt (DL), Nick Cattanno (Sr. WR), Terrell Johnson (Sr. CB/WR), Tobin Petrie (Sr. MLB), Brandon Codrington (Jr. CB), Gordon Guest (Jr. QB), Deontay Washingon (Jr. RB), DaBreyn Belfield (Jr. TE/LB).
The Crusaders were seconds away from winning the PAC-6 last year and were ousted in the playoffs by the eventual 4A runner-up. Moving to a Wake County-based conference for the first time since re-joining the NCHSAA will be a welcome change. Dalen Spruil and Jack Biestek are two of the top playmakers in the league. Biestek lined up at running back and wideout last year and Spruil is the team’s all-time leading rusher. New quarterback Nick Frey is inexperienced but coaches are high on his talent.
Last year: 12-2 (5-1 PAC-6)
Offense: Spread. Defense: 4-2-5.
Returning Starters: 4 offense, 6 defense.
Coaches: Steven Wright (HC), Bill Liedy (Associate HC/OC), Nick Drew (DC), Josh Proctor (ST/RBs), Ben Grazen (WRs), Tyler Williams (OL), Steven Mueller (DL), Treve Lumsden (LBs), Matt Gurdak (DBs), Brad Altice (K).
Contributors: Dalen Spruil (Sr. RB), Jack Biestek (Sr. ATH), Nick Frey (Jr. QB), Dom Carlucci (Jr. WR), Grant Kettner (Jr. WR), Brendan Sikora (Sr. OL), Jalen Brooks (Jr. DL), Brendan Henderson (Sr. DL), Myles Harp (So. DL), Brendan Hicks (Sr. LB), Will Bolton (Sr. LB), Marcel Smith (Sr. DB), Riley Myer (Jr. K).
The Eagles are under new head coach Ken Blocker this year. Enloe has shown flashes in its last three years, with Steve Johnson taking over in 2014 and David Green, now at Green Hope, coaching the last two. While the new league does remove three teams the Eagles had a hard time beating – Wake Forest, Wakefield and Heritage – the additions of Southeast Raleigh and Cardinal Gibbons were 21-6 last year combined.
Last year: 3-8 (1-6 Cap-8)
Head coach: Ken Blocker
Chad Smothers is back at the helm after a few years as Knightdale athletic director. Smothers has a young team, but Leesville has been able to consistently make the playoffs and put up big numbers on offense having three head coaches in four years. Evan Provost and Vince Amendola each did well at quarterback last season.
Last year: 6-6 (4-3 Cap-8)
Offense: Veer option. Defense: Multiple 3-4.
Coaches: Chad Smothers (HC), Sean Burnett (OL), Jason Day (DL), Jason McGeorge (ST), Rainer Rackley (RBs), Mike Peebles (LBs), Derreck Muffley (DBs), Jake Jones (WRs), Mike Holderman (QBs), Taylor Gentry (Strength/DL), David Smith (Head JV), D.J. Hess (Football Operations).
Contributors: Baldwin Bell (Sr. LB), Evan Provost (Sr. QB/WR), Landon Choboy (Sr. WR), Peyton Winstead (OL).
Millbrook may have three conference titles if the conference had been realigned this way four years ago (Wake Forest and Wakefield had three and one, respectively, in that time). The Wildcats have lined up tough nonconference games this year and will be battle-tested once league play starts.
Last year: 7-5 (4-3 Cap-8)
Head coach: Clarence Inscore.
Coming off their best season in school history, the Spartans are loaded this year. N.C. State recruit Trent Pennix will carry Sanderson’s ground game, and quarterback Justin Dunn has good options to throw too. Alim McNeill is one of the most sought-after recruits in the state – he can play on the defensive line, at linebacker or punch in touchdowns at fullback. Former Green Hope coach Kwame Dixon joins as an offensive coordinator.
Last year: 9-4 (4-3 Cap-8)
Offense: Multiple. Defense: 3-4.
Returning Starters: 9 offense, 9 defense.
Coaches: Ben Kolstad (HC), Marcus Gladden (DC), Kwame Dixon (OC), Jackson Williams (Head JV), Willie Lam (OL), Steve Pleasants (OL), Josh Resignalo (QBs), Aaron Richardson (RBs), Sean Eberle (WRs), Zach Oakley (WR), C.J. Hunter (DL), Travis Hairston (LBs), Jed Sands (OLBs), Eric Bender (DBs), Brandon McLaren (Ks), Scott Emerson (Strength), Russell Tarlton (Football Operations).
Contributors: Anderson Hardy (Sr. OL), Jaden Behe (Sr. OL), George Mitchell (Jr. OL), Hunter Ouzts (Sr. OL), Luke Rosen (Sr. TE/FB), Trent Pennix (Sr. RB/DB), Justin Dunn (Sr. QB), Dylan Bollinger (Jr. WR), Josh Vines (Jr. WR), Malik Medley (Sr. DL), Christian Holloway (Sr. DL), Bryce Miller (Sr. DL), Alim McNeill (Sr. LB/DL), Kam Blythe (Sr. LB), Max Webster (Jr. LB), Calvin Levinson (Sr. LB), Jacob Feinstein (Sr. DB/WR), Vince Thomas (Sr. DB), Tyrell Ford (Soph. DB).
There’s just something about Daniel Finn and the Bulldogs that goes together. In his first year back at Southeast Raleigh, the Bulldogs won nine games after three straight six-win seasons. It was the school’s first nine-win season since Finn left. Tyler Williams, an N.C. State recruit, can line up anywhere. This year’s team is young, and depth is thin, but Southeast could still be a team to watch as it joins the Cap-7 for the first time.
Last year: 9-4 (4-2 Greater Neuse 4A)
Offense: Spread. Defense: 3-4.
Returning Starters: 3 offense, 3 defense.
Coaches: Daniel Finn (HC), Greg Pulley (DC), Chris McKay (DL), Damian Sledge (LBs), Winslow Thornton (DBs), Mike Massey (OL), Lamont Watkins (OL), Tony Edwards (RBs), Marcus Vereen (WRs), Ron Bellamy (WRs), Derek Armah (Strength), Sam Haney (RBs).