High School Sports

Chapel Hill hopes its numbers add up

Three and out with 'first-year' Hillside coach Ray Harrison

Ray Harrison, first-year football coach at Durham, N.C.'s Hillside High School, previews the coming season.
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Ray Harrison, first-year football coach at Durham, N.C.'s Hillside High School, previews the coming season.

For high school football coaches, some rebuilding projects need just a touch-up of paint, while others require new concrete foundations.

Chapel Hill, which has made the state playoffs in each of its previous five seasons, will be looking for new footings in 2016. The Tigers need to replace all-conference quarterback Connor Stough, plus some more all-conference talent across the offensive front, like guard Hudson Price, tackles Brian Jones and Neal Duncan and center George McBurney.

Stough led Chapel Hill to 17 wins in two years, including an upset of AP No. 1-ranked Southern Durham in the 2014 state playoffs. The family name is now held in such regard that no one is too surprised that Chapel Hill head coach Isaac Marsh has turned to younger brother Alec Stough, a CHHS junior, as the Tigers’ new QB.

“Connor’s younger brother, Alec, will take over the reins,” Marsh said. “He knows the game of football.”

Caleb Colson, who saw action last year at quarterback, is moving to wide receiver to be a No. 1 target for the younger Stough.

Where does Chapel Hill most need to improve?

Special teams are a priority, Marsh said. Colson returns as the Tigers’ first-string punter, and Quinn MacLean has experience as a placekicker. But long-snappers Sam Bauers and McBurney are both graduated, so Jasiah King and Zurick Street figure to step up there. Stough, Colson and wideout Javon Wells can share holder duties.

Where’s the strength of the team?

Chapel Hill has seven regulars back on defense, including linebackers Baxter Sobolewski, Ben Gleiter and King. That should help the Tigers reverse last year’s numbers, when they gave up more points to opponents (333) than they scored themselves (324).

The sticking point is depth. To bolster numbers in 2015, Chapel Hill folded its junior varsity team in with the varsity. This year, Chapel Hill is practicing in preseason with slightly less than 40 players.

“Last year, we played more people both ways than we ever had before,” Marsh said. “This year, we’ll have five to six athletes who will have to play on both sides of the ball. Because of what we learned last year, we should be in a better position to do that.”

Can Chapel Hill return to the playoffs?

The Tigers’ conference – the Big 8 3A – can be brutal. Both Southern Durham and Orange have been ranked in the AP top 10 during at least some of the last two years. Chapel Hill’s conference opponents finished a combined 42-28 last year.

So the Tigers can be forgiven for scheduling nonconference opponents with a cumulative winning percentage of .214. Those first five games should give Chapel Hill time to get some playing experience for its younger players without paying too heavy a price.

More on the Tigers

Last year: 6-6 (3-3 Big 8 3A), first round 3AA playoffs

Five year average: 8-5 (3-3)

Preseason N&O rank: Unranked

Offense: Spread, Multiple-I

Defense: 4-3-4

Coaches: Issac Marsh (head coach)

Contributors: Alec Stough (Jr., QB); Caleb Colson (Sr., WR/P/QB/CB); Jasiah King (Sr., RB/LB); Kareem Patillo (Sr., WR/DB); Baxter Sobolewski (Sr., RB/LB); Zurick Street (Jr., OG/DT/LS); Javon Wells (Jr., WR/DB/LS); Ben Gleiter (Soph., LB); Quinn MacLean (Soph., PK).

New faces: Bryant Johnson (RB/DB); Jake Johnson (HB/LB); Grant Stough (Fr., QB).

The main number: .600 – last year’s winning percentage of Chapel Hill’s conference opponents.


Aug. 19 at Riverside, 7 p.m.

Aug. 26 vs. South Granville, 7 p.m.

Sep. 2 at Carrboro, 7 p.m.

Sep. 9 vs. Southeast Raleigh, 7 p.m.

Sep. 16# East Chapel Hill, 7 p.m.

Sep. 23* at Cedar Ridge, 7 p.m.

Sep. 30* vs. J.F. Webb, 7 p.m.

Oct. 7* vs. Southern Durham, 7 p.m.

Oct. 14* at Northern Vance, 7 p.m.

Oct. 21* at Orange, 7 p.m.

Oct. 28* BYE

Nov. 4* vs. Northwood, 7 p.m.

Note: *Conference game; #N&O Hodgin Cup game.