With the opening week of the high school football season finally here, it’s time to unveil the Southeastern 4A Conference Power Rankings.
This was something I started last season, and I’m happy to bring the rankings back for 2015.
As always, if you don’t like where I slotted your team, we can have a fruitful discussion about it through a friendly phone call, email, or on social media — but leave the pitchforks at home, please.
Without further adieu, here are my rankings entering Week 1.
1. Scotland (Last year’s end-of-season ranking: 1)
The Scots (12-2, 5-1 in the SEC last season) reclaim the top spot in my power rankings and are the prohibitive favorites to win a fifth-straight conference title. The Scotland garnered all eight of the first-place votes submitted by the media at the conference’s meeting with the coaches earlier this month.
Richard Bailey’s team returns a strong offensive line and a stout front seven, led by all-state linebacker Jonathan Smith, on defense. Incumbent starter Dashaun Ferguson is back at quarterback and he will line up next to workhorse tailback Zamir White, who has already attracted the attention of premier college programs across the country.
The Scots have experienced adversity on the injury front this offseason, however, as Ferguson will be sidelined for a couple of weeks while recovering from a torn PCL and starting receiver Willie Douglas is doubtful to play tonight while nursing a sprained ankle.
First up for Scotland: a home contest against South View.
2. Pinecrest (Last year’s end-of-season ranking: 3)
Much is expected of the Patriots this season, a team that finished 11-3 (3-2 in the SEC) in 2014 and advanced to the second round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association playoffs.
With returning starting quarterback Christian Ledbetter and Clemson commit guard Sean Pollard leading the offense and a hard-nosed defense headlined by linebacker Carson Maples, defensive lineman Qawi Alim and defensive back Jaylen Dickerson to back him up, the Patriots are poised for a breakout season under coach Chris Metzger.
First up for Pinecrest: a trip to Spring Lake to battle Overhills.
3. Richmond (Last year’s end-of-season ranking: 2)
This offseason has brought a great deal of change to the Raiders program as former coach Paul Hoggard left for Edenton Holmes, and the school replaced him with former Middle Creek coach Mike Castellano.
Castellano brings with him a more pass-happy offense reliant on quick throws to playmakers on the outside, a far cry from the pound-the-rock rushing attack the Raiders were known for under Hoggard.
Despite the head coaching change, the Richmond will still field a talented team in Castellano’s first year at the helm. Quientel Goodwin returns at tailback, and the Raiders have playmakers like Devon Hunt and Jaelin Beugre on defense.
First up for Richmond: a home contest against Rocky River.
4. Lumberton (Last year’s end-of-season ranking: 4)
The Pirates are led by Mike Setzer, who enters his second season with the program.
Lumberton got off to a hot start last year, winning its first three games before dropping six of seven to fall under .500. The Pirates finished 5-6 (1-4 in the SEC), and SEC Offensive Player of the Year Josh Sheridan graduated after racking up over 1,600 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2014.
One of the conference’s best lineman, Pete Townsend, returns for his senior season, and he will help protect freshman quarterback Braylon Grice.
Lumberton’s issues last season rarely stemmed from its offense — it was the defense that let it down in most games. Setzer hopes he addressed the issue by hiring a new coordinator Kyndraus Guy, a former UNC player.
First up for Lumberton: a road game in Wilson to play Hunt.
5. Hoke (Last year’s end-of-season ranking: 6)
Led by second-year coach Tom Paris, the Bucks finished in a three-way tie for fourth in the conference with a 4-7 (1-4 in the SEC) record during his inaugural campaign.
Hoke welcomes back its best player from last season, all-SEC performer Jacob Rushing, and an emerging star in defensive back Quinn Maynor. Maynor racked up 107 tackles in 2014 along with 1 1/2 sacks, five quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles and two recoveries. He also defended a pass and blocked one punt.
The Bucks did not achieve much team success last season and thus players like Rushing and Maynor were largely unnoticed, but if Hoke has aspirations to crack the top three in the conference, those two, along with receiver Brandon Smith and defensive lineman Donovan Wirt, will have a lot to do with it.
First up for Hoke: New Hanover visits Raeford to battle the Bucks.
6. Purnell Swett (Last year’s end-of-season ranking: 5)
The Rams competed as hard as any team in the conference last season under former skipper Mark Heil, who guided the Rams to a 4-7 (1-4 in the SEC) record last year.
Tension between Heil and the school eventually led him to resign, and he eventually landed at Fairmont while the Purnell Swett turned to Jon Sherman. Sherman joins the Rams after serving as the offensive coordinator at Douglas Byrd in 2014 and as the head coach at East Chapel Hill in 2013. He was also an assistant on Bailey’s staff when the Scotland coach was at Jack Britt.
A complete rebuild appears to be in store for the Rams this year after graduating their top passer, rusher and receiver.
First up for Purnell Swett: a home game against Pine Forest.
Logan Martinez can be reached at 910-506-3170. Follow him on Twitter @L_Martinez13.