Wake Forest has been the state runner-up three times in the last five years. This year, the Cougars want to win it all.
But first, Wake Forest must fight its way through a Cap-8 that includes reloaded Millbrook, owner of a league-high 14 conference championships, and redesigned Heritage. Millbrook returns several key offensive starters, while Heritage starts its season with former NFL cornerback Dewayne Washington at the helm of the program.
Sorting out the field
Favorites: Millbrook and Wake Forest. Quaterback Reid Herring, who verbally committed to ECU, is expected to lead Millbrook, whose only conference loss came against Wake Forest last year. Wake Forest finished undefeated in the Cap-8 and features one of the nation’s top recruits of 2016 in Dexter Lawrence.
Underdog: Sanderson. The Spartans were hit hard by graduation and are young this year.
Dark horse: Leesville Road. First-year coach Brad Wilson anticipates the Pride to pick up the fast-paced offense, well, quickly. The personnel is there. Leesville finished undefeated in the Cap-8 in 2011 and 2012, dropping only one game both years.
Seven players to know
DL Daeqwan Bailey, Sanderson: He will lead a group that’s rebuilding this season.
LB Austin Bell, Broughton: Cap-8’s leading tackler last season (114).
WR Marius Cooper, Wakefield: Great target for McKay as the Wolverines look to climb into the Cap-8 competition this season.
QB Reid Herring, Millbrook: The confident game manager verbally committed to ECU earlier this year and will be pleased to see four returning starters on the offensive line.
DT Dexter Lawrence, Wake Forest: Rivals.com’s top-ranked football recruit of 2016 looking to close his senior season with a historic state title.
RB Devon Lawrence, Wake Forest: Pulled up from junior varsity as a freshman last season and making waves as Dexter’s younger brother.
QB Matt McKay, Wakefield: He was 19 yards shy of coming in first in the Cap-8 for passing yards after coming back late from an injury.
Mark your calendars
Millbrook at Wake Forest Oct. 2. This game could set the tone for Wake Forest’s conference run since its against an opponent the Cougars have a deep playoff history with. As for Millbrook, competing here may even reverse a postseason streak. Wake Forest has eliminated the Wildcats from playoffs before.
One statement, one question
Wake Forest (15-1, 7-0): Dexter Lawrence and the Cougars defensive line drive this ship. How will losing star running back Bryce Love affect their plans to win an elusive first title?
Millbrook (11-6, 6-1): There were some big losses on defense for Millbrook. Will the Wildcats keep up with Wake Forest if it comes down to another playoff battle?
Heritage (8-4, 5-2): Veteran football experience (12 years in the NFL) meets very young group of players. Is there talent to hold their own?
Wakefield (7-6, 4-3): Junior quarterback Matt McKay, unlike last year, enters the season healthy. Can the Wolverines play spoiler?
Leesville Road (5-7, 3-4): Leesville took a step back last year. How fast can the Pride transition to an uptempo offense?
Sanderson (3-8, 2-5): It’s a young team. Will the offseason bonding off the field make a difference on the field?
Enloe (3-8, 1-6): Coach David Green likes his backs and receivers. Can Enloe get the breaks it needs to prove it’s a playoff team?
Broughton (1-10, 0-7): The Capitals have a long streak to reverse. Can they overcome lack of depth?
Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan