Typically, the arrival of autumn means the celebration of cooler temperatures, and a much-needed break from the oppressive heat and humidity that we’ve been experiencing in these last few waning weeks of summer.
In addition to the crisp fall breezes and the colorful arrays of foliage that will soon blanket our landscapes, we especially look forward to those weekly gatherings with our fellow community members under the glow of our local high school football stadiums on Friday nights.
It’s also hard to believe that we’re already at Week 6. Where has the time gone? This is officially the mid-point of the regular season so today I’ll give you full mid-season report card and find out who has made the grade thus far.
If you think back to last week, I tried to educate everyone about how much we’ve grown as a state regarding the amount of talent we’re putting in the National Football League. When you think about it, it’s an astonishing growth curve to go from an also-ran state at producing pro-ready players, to now being firmly in the Top 7.
To show growth like that, it means that we’ve got some very special players that are leaving their marks on the local prep gridirons.
The Tar Heel State has always had a history of producing some top-flight running backs. You can read the history books and learn about legendary figures like Charlie “Choo-Choo” Justice, the University of North Carolina halfback from Asheville who was the runner-up for the Heisman Trophy in both 1948 and 1949.
Or how about High Point’s Ted Brown, the legendary N.C. State tailback who slashed his way through ACC defenses for four-straight years before moving on to an eight-year pro career.
Even today, our home-grown stars are getting the job done at the major college level. In the SEC, Zamir White (Scotland) has been carrying the mail for Georgia, while in the ACC, Christian Beal-Smith (East Forsyth) has been making plays at Wake Forest, and local stars Ricky Person, Jr. (Heritage) and Zonovan Knight (Southern Nash) have been solid performers for the Wolfpack.
That brings me to current Cleveland High School running back Omarion Hampton. His head coach Scott Riley told me about this young man when he was a freshman. That night, I watched him in their big game against cross-town rivals Clayton.
While he didn’t get much playing time that night as a back-up, I could see that he was truly going to be a very special player.
From his strong and lean muscular frame, his slashing moves that seemingly tie-up the legs of opposing linebackers, his incredible vision for making the right cuts at the right times, and willingness to deliver at punch at the end of runs, Hampton is the total package at the running back position.
Fast-forward to 2021, and about 3,800 yards and 60 touchdowns later, it has become obvious that this player has what it takes to become an impact performer at the next level. The University of North Carolina commit has all the intangibles that would lead you to believe that he could be a day-one contributor for the Tar Heels.
While he was sidelined in the Rams state championship game back in May, he is back to full speed now and he and his teammates look poised to make a strong run in the 4A East playoffs coming up in November.
Wake County football rising
Football in Wake County has been on the rise for about a decade. The level of coaching has improved greatly and of course, talent has been on fire. Garner was among the standard-bearers for years, dominating the Wake County gridirons, but more recently Wake Forest took that torch and ran with it, winning three-consecutive state championships between 2016-18.
Now there are several teams in the county who are trying to stake their claim at being number-one. The trio of Cardinal Gibbons, Leesville Road, and Rolesville have all made state championship game appearances in the past two seasons, yet neither have been able to bring home the trophy.
All three of these 4A programs are looking strong once again at the midpoint of the season, and it’s not a stretch to think that once of them could push onward to another state title game. However, there is also another newcomer to this party in Millbrook, who sits at 5-0.
Clarence Inscore’s Wildcats have been dominant in the first half of the year putting up impressive offensive numbers behind the efforts of the quarterback-receiver combo Mason Fortune to Wesley Grimes. If this duo continues to produce big numbers, they may both end up in the Mr. Football conversation.
So far Millbrook gets an A from me.
Is New Bern elite in 4A
Looking to Eastern N.C., is New Bern now proving to be an elite team in the 4A ranks? The Bears have looked very dominant in the early going, and they have signature wins over Tidewater powerhouse Maury and last week with a convincing victory over Havelock.
There are athletes all over the field for head coach Torrey Nowell, but running back Aronne Herring has been especially impressive. He has already rushed for 787 and nine touchdowns in this young season.
I’ll give the Bears an A+ so far.
Myers Park can answer questions against Cardinal Gibbons
Is there a surging team that could be coming out of nowhere to surprise us all? I think there is, and on Friday we’ll find out just how strong they are.
I feel that Myers Park just may be that sleeping giant that is waiting for one of the front runners to trip up. The Mustangs will host Cardinal Gibbons on Friday, capping two of the most aggressive non-conference schedules for both programs.
Don’t ever accuse Myers Park head coach Curtis Fuller or Gibbons head coach Steven Wright for avoiding a fight, because they have both truly challenged their teams with tough non-league games.
In his first five games, quarterback Lucas Lenhoff has been remarkable, passing for 1,425 yards and 17 touchdowns. He’s another player who has vaulted his way up into the Mr. Football discussions for the end of the year.
For now I’ll give the Mustangs an A-, but they can certainly improve on that in the back half of the regular season.
This week’s top games
Now let’s take a look at some big games taking place this week.
Cornelius will be the place to be on Friday at 7pm as Hough hosts Chambers. These are certainly the two top teams in the state, and I imagine that this game will live up to the hype. I expect a festive atmosphere and a packed grandstand, so arrive early!
In a battle of unbeatens, New Bern will travel to Jacksonville. Senior quarterback Josh Benton has been solid to this point, while he has only thrown for 223 yards in three games, the shifty dual-threat athlete has rushed for 399 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground.
In the NCISAA, the top private school battle will take place in the Queen City as Charlotte Latin travels to face perennial power Charlotte Christian.
If you like high scoring affairs, you might consider heading to Mocksville to see East Forsyth take on Davie County. This could be an exciting back-and-forth game where the winner is the team with the ball last.
So be sure to head to your local school and take in an exciting game this Friday and catch some of tomorrow’s stars today, while helping support these programs and schools.