By RYAN HERMAN
North Lincoln football coach David Maness walked off the field for the last time last season excited about what he had returning at the quarterback position.
As the Knights prepare for contact drills today for the first time in 2013, Maness is still excited. But he has no idea who his quarterback is going to be.
North Lincoln finished 2012 with sophomore Devin Cox at the helm, but during the offseason Cox unexpectedly transferred to new Southern District 7 Athletic 2A Conference rival Bandys, leaving Maness without a signal caller and a backup plan.
Maness said Tuesday he has been working out juniors Chase Caldwell and Trey Freeman, but at this point, the second year coach isn’t sure who will start come Saturday’s early-morning home scrimmage with Hunter Huss.
“Just don’t know right now. There’s some things that each one of them does well. We’re just going to have to see after the scrimmages to see who gives us the best chance,” Maness said.
Cox’s transfer –– Maness said he was an out-of-county student originally –– leaves the Knights without a quarterback with any varsity experience.
Cox took his first varsity snaps last season as a sophomore, ironically enough, against Bandys in Week 4, and was 3-of-8 passing for 63 yards and a touchdown. Cox took the starting job full-time after that and finished as North Lincoln’s leading passer, completing 41 of 89 attempts for 540 yards, four TDs and 10 interceptions in seven-plus games.
“We felt good coming into the season. … And this was kind of an unexpected thing,” Maness said.
With five practices in the books, Maness said he has seen some positives out of both Caldwell and Freeman that, at this point, the race for a starting QB is too close to call.
He hopes to have a better idea of who will be the starter after Saturday.
“They both have had some good days, and not-so-good days. Don’t know yet. It’s just hard to tell,” he said.
“Things will play out a little bit more when we scrimmage on Saturday, for sure. We’ll get a chance to get it on film, and see how they’re doing things a little bit more.”
Players come first
In the wake of the death of a 16-year-old Fayetteville 71st lineman over the weekend, area coaches are paying even more attention to the health and safety of their players.
According to the Fayetteville Observer, sophomore Evan Raines collapsed at the end of morning practice on Saturday and was taken to Cape Fear Valley Medical Center, where he later died. No actual cause of death was given.
West Lincoln head coach Tom Sain called the situation “terrible,” and said that he and his staff are making sure they take extra measures and precautions to ensure –– to the best of their ability –– the community doesn’t have to experience a tragedy such as the one that has rocked Fayetteville.
“It’s always a concern. We always try to keep an eye on players. Anytime you see a player feeling out of the ordinary, a little bit different, it’s very concerning. You never want anything to happen,” Sain said. “These guys are young players and they’ve got their life in front of them, so I always want to make sure they’re as safe as they can be and try to take every precaution to make sure nobody overexerts themselves.”
Time to hit
Per NCHSAA rules, teams can have body-to-body contact beginning with the sixth day of practice –– today.
After all, football is all about contact. And the players are ready to crack helmets.
But not too hard, too soon.
“We’re excited about getting together tomorrow and have some contact,” Sain said. “We’re probably not going to do a whole lot. We don’t want to get anybody injured or hurt or anything like that. Everybody’s excited, looking forward to that sixth day of practice.”
The old gang’s back
Although the re-creation of the old SD-7 is already a done deal, area coaches can’t wait until league play begins on Sept. 27 following an off week for all area teams.
The eight teams that will make up the new conference –– Bandys, Bunker Hill, East Lincoln, Lincolnton, Maiden, Newton-Conover, West Caldwell and West Lincoln –– were all part of the league at some point until realignment ended it more than a decade ago.
There are several reasons coaches and athletic directors are excited about the reemergence of the league football-wise: Quality of competition and the revenue it will generate.
“Love it, love it. Great rivalries, great coaches, great athletes,” Lincolnton coach Scott Cloninger said. “As a football coach, I think it’s one of the best conferences in the state of North Carolina competition-wise. As an athletic director, I sit back and smile because everyone of them travels well, everyone of them is going to bring a great crowd.
“I just think it’s great rivalries across the board for everybody that we’re going to play in this new conference.”
Another preseason favorite
East Lincoln, fresh off a NCHSAA state 2A championship last season, has garnered another vote at an early favorite to win it all again.
The Mustangs were voted preseason No. 1 by the N.C. high school football website CarolinaGridiron.com in its 2A preseason top 15 poll released on Monday.
Nearly two weeks ago East Lincoln was voted the top 2A team in NCPreps.com’s preseason polls.