The Greater Neuse River Conference had a very blue and gold theme in football last year and stands to see more of the same this fall.
Garner and East Wake are expected to return to the top-two spots they respectively filled last season. While Garner gave East Wake its only loss in the league last year, the jury is still out on which of the blue and gold teams will fare better this season – including when they meet in Wendell on Sept. 25.
West Johnston, which finished a game behind East Wake last year, looks to continue building a winning environment. Clayton turns to new leadership after losing its star quarterback from a year ago to graduation, while Southeast Raleigh retains its standout quarterback and looks to pick up where it left off on a high note last year.
Harnett Central, Knightdale and Rolesville are looking for different things in their quest for improvement this season – more consistency for the Trojans, fewer turnovers for the Knights, and continued physical progress for the Rams in what is Rolesville’s first year with a senior class.
Sorting out the field
Favorites: Garner and East Wake. The 7-0 Trojans handed the Warriors their only conference loss a season ago.
Underdog: Knightdale. The Knights have depth in the running department and intend on doing a better job protecting the ball than they did last season.
Dark horse: Southeast Raleigh. The Bulldogs enter their second year under head coach Michael Thibodeau after missing the postseason for the first time in school history in 2014.
Seven players to know
Tripp Harrington, East Wake: The dual-threat quarterback returns for his senior season after throwing for 2,561 yards and rushing for 674 yards and 12 touchdowns as a junior.
Collin Eaddy, Garner: The junior takes over the lead role at tailback as the Trojans work to fill the shoes of former star Nyheim Hines.
Andre Wilson, West Johnston: The quarterback who got about half the snaps as a sophomore last season will get all the snaps this season.
Blake Joyner, Clayton: Nicknamed “Neon,” Joyner returns to the Comets’ receiving unit after hauling in 1,178 yards last year.
Dylan Parham, Southeast Raleigh: Committed to N.C. State, Parham is a senior quarterback who adapted to a new offense to finish his junior season strong.
Corey Wiggins, Knightdale: A senior linebacker and offensive lineman, Wiggins is the Knights’ most technically sound player on both sides of the ball.
Colby Cooper, Rolesville: Cooper is the top returning wide receiver in the Triangle, with more than 1,000 yards as a junior.
Mark your calenders
Aug. 21, East Wake at Millbrook: The Millbrook Wildcats are coming off an 11-3 season that included a 7-6 loss to East Wake, setting up a grudge match for their season opener.
Sept. 25, Garner at East Wake: The Warriors appear most likely to challenge Garner for the GNRC title. Garner will be coming off of a rivalry game with Southeast Raleigh the week before.
Oct. 23, Clayton at West Johnston: West Johnston won 27-25 last season on the Comets’ turf.
One statement, one question
Garner (13-2, 7-0): The reigning GNRC champs have some question marks but has players who have seen a decent amount of time on the field. Will a stout defensive line be Garner’s key to passing its big tests this season?
East Wake (10-3, 6-1): A host of players return as seniors from last year’s commanding offense. Can the Warriors meet their goal of running the table in the Greater Neuse?
West Johnston (8-4, 5-2): The Wildcats won close games in 2014. Can they win some of the tough match-ups they face early this season and carry some momentum into the conference schedule?
Clayton (6-6, 3-4): Last year’s star quarterback is now at Randolph-Macon College. How will the expected air-raid approach continue under new leadership?
Southeast Raleigh (4-7, 3-4): The Bulldogs averaged 30 points in their final three games last season. Can the senior-led offense continue to produce in the second year of a new system?
Harnett Central (3-8, 2-5): The Trojans showed good fight, but went back and forth all of last season. Can they do something they did not last season – win two or more games in a row?
Rolesville (1-10, 1-6): The Rams managed to win one game in their varsity football debut last season. Will they be able to build on that this year, as the new school has its first senior class?
Knightdale (3-8, 1-6): Turnovers cost the Knights late in several games last season. What will an emphasis on protecting the football do for the team in its second season in a new system?