The Southwest Wake Athletic 4A Conference welcomes four new coaches this season at Apex, Middle Creek, Cary and Holly Springs, which should only add more intrigue to a conference known for parity.
Green Hope and Panther Creek brought last year’s SWAC crown to west Cary as the two teams each finished 6-1 in league play. Since 2008, nine different schools (including Lee County, now in 3A) have finished in the league’s top three – the only Triangle conference to field that kind of competitiveness.
Apex Friendship, which will play a JV-only schedule in its first year, will be led by Adam Sanders.
Sorting out the field
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Favorite: Middle Creek. The Mustangs have the most depth.
Underdog: Cary. The Imps have the biggest transition.
Dark horse: Fuquay-Varina. The Bengals graduated just 15 players.
Seven players to know
Ian Boyd, Apex: With options to play Division I basketball or football, Boyd is one of the best two-sport talents in the area.
Bryce Dixon, Green Hope: The N.C. State recruit led the conference in receiving yards (879, 10 TDs) and has bulked up to prepare for playing tight end in college.
Isaiah Laster, Panther Creek: The safety had three defense and special team touchdowns.
Austin Pluckhorn, Fuquay-Varina: The senior is a rarity in 4A – a four-year starter at middle linebacker.
Jonathan Spencer, Middle Creek: Made plays as a receiver and defensive back for the Mustangs last season.
Tray Staten, Holly Springs: Staten is a big back and ran for 1,102 yards and nine touchdowns last year.
Isaiah Totten, Apex: He nearly topped 2,000 yards (1,920) and ran for 24 touchdowns.
Mark your calenders
Sept. 25, Scotland County at Panther Creek: Where the Scots go, so does a large percentage of Laurinburg’s population (15,593).
Oct. 9, Panther Creek at Green Hope: The co-SWAC champs played twice in three weeks last year, splitting the head-to-head games.
Oct. 23, Middle Creek at Fuquay-Varina: Whether it’s a hook-and-lateral or a fake punt for a touchdown on 4th-and-55, crazy things always happen in this rivalry game.
One statement, one question
Green Hope (10-3, 6-1): The reigning co-champs beat Panther Creek only to lose two weeks later in the playoffs to them. Will the tweaks to offense keep them atop the SWAC?
Panther Creek (11-3, 6-1): Last year’s defense lifted the team to several close wins. Can the offense carry the team this year?
Middle Creek (9-3, 5-2): The 2015 senior class was solid, but injured too. Are they too young to win the SWAC, or does talent trump inexperience?
Fuquay-Varina (5-7, 3-4): Last season’s team knew from the outset it was a season away from challenging for a title. Can they put it all together with an extra year of experience?
Athens Drive (4-7, 3-4): Perhaps no SWAC team has been more snakebit with turnovers. Can the Jaguars close out Williams Stadium with a playoff berth?
Holly Springs (6-6, 3-4): Robert Furth is coach No. 3 for the senior class. Can the team build on last season despite another transition?
Apex (5-7, 2-5): They’ve got two of the best players in the Triangle. Do they have the depth everywhere else to compete?
Cary (0-11, 0-7): Last season’s team averaged 7.1 points per game. What improvement can be expected in Mike Kirst’s first season?
Apex Friendship (N/A): This season is all about preparing for next year. What talent did the school draw away from three of its future foes (Panther Creek, Apex, Holly Springs)?