High School Sports

No. 1 in Observer’s preseason Sweet 16, Mallard Creek plans to ‘follow the format’

Mallard Creek All-America LB Trent Simpson headed to the SEC

Mallard Creek linebacker Trent Simpson committed to an SEC school Friday, saying it felt like home.
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Mallard Creek linebacker Trent Simpson committed to an SEC school Friday, saying it felt like home.

Mallard Creek will begin the season No. 1 in the Observer’s annual preseason Sweet 16 poll.

The Sweet 16 ranks the 137 high schools in the newspaper’s coverage area that play football. The Observer covers 162 total schools in both Carolinas.

Unlike many polls, the Sweet 16 doesn’t break teams out by class but puts them all in one ranking. The Sweet 16 is not a true power poll but does consider the strength of classification, the team’s schedule and performance. It does not, however, consider how ranked teams would fare against each other unless they play.

All that said, Mallard Creek plays in the toughest classification in North Carolina, 4AA, and in arguably the toughest conference, the I-MECK 4A. The Mavericks also have non-conference games with nationally ranked Dutch Fork, the reigning S.C. 5A state champion, and Butler, a three-time N.C. 4AA state champion.

The Mavericks return 14 starters from a 10-1 team a year ago and have 30 lettermen returning in all. Coach Mike Palmieri counts as many as 15 eventual Football Bowl Subdivision recruits on the roster.

“I feel confident about this team,” Palmieri said. “It’s a lot better than last year because of the experience level. We were young last year, and almost everyone is coming back. We’ve had some new additions to the coaching staff, and we feel we can compete in every game.”

Robert Hellams is the new offensive coordinator, moving over from Mooresville, and he plans to bring the type of over-the-top passing game Mallard Creek hasn’t consistently displayed since it won three consecutive state championships from 2013-15.

Hellams is working with new Mavericks quarterback Dustin Noller, a transfer from Rock Hill’s Northwestern High School, where he threw for more than 5,000 yards and 45 touchdowns the past two seasons.

The early returns have been promising. The Mavericks won a pair of prestigious 7-on-7 tournaments during the summer, events that usually don’t play to Mallard Creek’s strengths — offensive and defensive line play and running the ball.

Former Mavericks assistant Greg Talley (who left to become head coach at Northside Christian) is also returning, making for a deeper and more experienced coaching staff.

Palmieri thinks his team is ready for a big year.

“It’s a long road to win a title,” Palmieri said. “That’s our goal. But to be honest, we’re not even talking state title. All we’re talking is Dutch Fork (the teams play Friday in a nationally televised game in Columbia). Sure, we have people talking titles outside the program, and our goal is to win state, but you’ve got to follow the format: One practice, one game at a time and go from there.”

In the past 10 years, Palmieiri’s teams have been consistent. Mallard Creek has had just one season with fewer than 10 wins — the Mavericks were 9-3 in 2016 — and are 65-2 in conference play.

“I think our process is good, on and off the field,” Palmieri said. “We’ve got great talent. As long as I’m here, I don’t see it dropping off.”

The Observer’s preseason Sweet 16 poll

1.Mallard Creek4A
2.Myers Park4A
4. Richmond Senior4A
5.Charlotte Catholic3A
10.Chester (SC)3A
11.Kings Mountain3A
12.South Point2A
13.Charlotte ChristianIND
14.Northwest Cabarrus3A
15.Gastonia Huss3A
16.Rock Hill South Pointe3A