2021 Union County high school football preview

Jay Edwards, Langston Wertz Jr.
·18 min read

CENTRAL ACADEMY

Head Coach: Shane Griffin (1st year in his 2nd stint; also Central Academy head coach 2015-16).

2019 Record: No varsity; 5-5 as J.V. team.

Conference: Rocky River Conference/2A.

Returning Starters: No varsity team.

Returning Lettermen: No varsity team.

Key Returning Players: Jetta Hase, Sr., QB/ATH (6-2, 180); Hunter Walle, Jr., TE/LB (6-3, 230); Roger Melchor, Jr., RB/DB (5-10, 175); Mitchell Privette, Sr., OL (6-1, 260); Alec Giles, Sr., OL (6-0, 245); Danny Taldo, Sr., LB/DB (6-1, 185); Taylor Root, Jr., DB (6-3, 185): Nicky Viele, Jr. LB/TE (6-1, 185); A.J. Albrecht, Sr., QB/DB (5-11, 170); Nate Hindes, Jr., OLB/RB (5-8, 160).

Key Newcomers: Cody Yeager, FB/LB (5-10, 185); Kaleb Nixon, WR/DB (5-9, 150).

Outlook: Central Academy returns to varsity play after fielding a J.V. team the past three seasons. There are certain to be growing pains without much varsity experience, but the Cougars have a solid core of players from a J.V. team that had some success at 5-5 last year. Senior quarterback Jetta Hase will lead an offense that returns all five lineman, including seniors, Alec Giles, Griffin Moore and Mitchell Privette. The Cougars’ defense will be led by junior linebacker, Hunter Walle. If Central Academy can win a few games and move out of the bottom of the Rocky River conference, that would be a major accomplishment as the program tries to get back on its feet.

CUTHBERTSON

Head Coach: Trey Kavanaugh (2nd year as Cuthbertson head coach).

2019 Record: 5-7 (2-5 in the Southern Carolinas’ Conference (SCC)).

Conference: Southern Carolinas Conference/3AA.

Returning Starters: 14

Returning Lettermen: 20

Key Returning Starters: Evan Bernard, Sr., QB (6-2, 190); Seth Eighmy, Sr., WR (6-3, 210); Myles Teasley, Sr., RB (5-10, 180); A.J. Colombo, Jr., WR (5-9, 160); Myles Lopez, Sr., OL (6-4, 305); Andreau Rastia, Sr., LB (5-11, 190); Kurt Petroff, Sr., LB (6-0, 195); Gavin Thomas, Sr., OL/DL (6-6, 225); Thomas Stamper, Jr., WR/DB (6-2. 195); Anthony Goodloe, Jr., LB (5-10, 215); Carson Torsza, Sr., DB (5-10, 175); Tyler Searman, Sr., TE/DL (6-2, 220); Tanner Larson, Sr., K (6-1, 150); Capp Spinner, Sr., TE (6-6, 215).

Key Returnees: Trevor Tate, Jr., OL (6-3, 260); Parker Williams, Sr., WR/DB (6-1, 175); Louie Dellulio, Sr., QB (6-2, 185); Denzel Aligwekwe, Jr., LB (6-2, 210).

Key Newcomers: Reece Morgan, So., DB (6-0, 170) (Metrolina Christian transfer); Cason Johnson, So., DB (6-1, 175) (Charlotte Latin transfer); Gabe Pearley, Jr., DB/WR (6-0, 170) (Providence transfer); Devin Pearley, Jr., LB (5-10, 190) (Providence transfer); Thomas Abernathy, Sr., OL (6-1, 280) (Florida transfer).

Outlook: The Cavaliers have struggled of late going 13-23 in the last three years combined. But 2nd year, Cuthbertson head coach, Trey Kavanaugh, made strides last year (5-7) and return 14 starters from that group. Cavaliers’ senior quarterback, Evan Bernard (1,599 yards passing last year) will have plenty of weapons with senior, Seth Eighmy (34 catches for 533 yards), and junior, A.J. Colombo (54 catches) as well as senior running back, Myles Teasley (492 yards rushing, six touchdowns) making plays behind a veteran offensive line. Meanwhile, the Cuthbertson defense, led by senior linebackers, Kurt Petroff (78 tackles) and Andreau Rastia (102 tackles), will be tested with a number of prolific offenses within the league (SCC). If Cuthbertson can move up the SCC standings, finish above .500 (for the first time since 2015) and return to the playoffs that would be another major step forward for the program.

FOREST HILLS

Head Coach: Jammie Deese (1st year as Forest Hills’ head coach).

2019 Record: 4-7 (1-3 in the Rocky River Conference).

Conference: Rocky River Conference/2AA.

Returning Starters: 9

Returnee Lettermen: 15

Key Returning Starters: TyQuan Rushing, Sr., WR/FS (6-2, 170); Jacob Mullis, Sr., OL/DL (6-3, 275); Rowen Starnes, Jr., OL (6-2, 280); Brian Smith, Sr., OL/DL (6-1, 285); Ahmahd Stafford, Sr., RB/CB (5-7, 150); JaDivion Coffey, So., WR/CB (6-0, 165); Zach Barbour, So., TE/DL (6-5, 210); Gage Crowder, So., QB (6-1, 155); Luke Baker, Sr., TE/DE (5-10, 210); Demetrius Barnes, Jr., WR/CB (5-7, 150); Christian Kirby, Sr., OL/DL (5-11, 220).

Key Newcomers: Evan Greene, So., DE/TE/QB (6-1, 200); Will Guion, So., OL (6-2, 295); Caiden Smith, Fr., LB/RB (6-0, 195); Jordan Bennett, Fr., RB/DB (5-10, 180); Ahmir Stafford, Fr., DB/WR (5-8, 145); Dakota Potter, Fr., TE/LB (6-0, 175); JaQuivian Smith, Fr., RB/LB (5-11, 175); Christyan Washington, Fr., CB/WR (5-9, 145).

Outlook: The Yellow Jackets have struggled, going 11-34 in the last four years. But former University of West Florida head coach, Jammie Deese, looks to breathe new life into a Forest Hills’ team that returns nine starters. The Yellow Jackets’ offense will depend on seniors in wide receiver TyQuan Rushing (34 receptions for 492 yards and five touchdowns), running back, Ahmahd Stafford, and a veteran offensive line led by seniors, Jacob Mullis and Brian Smith and junior, Rowen Starnes. Forest Hills also needs sophomore quarterback, Gage Crowder, to step up to direct the offense. The Yellow Jackets’ defense also looks to be improved with seniors in linebacker, Luke Baker, Rushing (three interceptions) and Smith headlining the group. Forest Hills made big strides last year winning four games. This year, they look to carry that momentum in trying to earn their first winning season since and playoff berth since 2015.

MARVIN RIDGE

Head Coach: Aubrey Carter (6th year as Marvin Ridge head coach).

2019 Record: 6-6 (5-2 in the Southern Carolinas’ Conference).

Conference: Southern Carolinas’ Conference (SCC)/3AA.

Returning Starters: 10 (4 offense; 6 defense).

Returning Lettermen: 23

Key Returning Starters: Tanner Blackwell, Sr., LB (6-0, 210); Devin Reed, Jr., DT (6-1, 275); Jake Young, Jr., DE/TE (6-4, 220); Ethan Robitaille, Sr., WR/S (5-11, 175); Cole Pearce, Sr., OL (6-0, 235); Caden Noonkester, Sr., K/P (6-6, 190); Garrett Jordan, Sr., OL (6-1, 220); Jacob Terwilliger, Jr., RB/LB (6-1, 225); Bryce Yaggi, Sr., WR/CB (6-0, 190).

Key Returnees: Rithrik Mantha, Sr., OL (6-0, 260); Logan Clegg, Sr., DE/LB/LS (6-0, 235); Gavin Scotto, Sr., DT (6-0, 255).

Key Newcomers: Luke Raykovic, Jr., DB/WR (6-3, 180); Alex Meeks, Jr., WR/CB (5-11, 165); J.T. Sasa, Sr., OL/DL (6-2, 275); Cole Delissio, Jr., QB (5-10, 180); Evan Medders, Fr., RB/QB (5-9, 180); Sean McFarland, So., OL (6-2, 240).

Outlook: Marvin Ridge has been up and down going 12-12 in the last two years. The Mavericks’ defense has plenty of experience with six starters back, led by senior linebacker, Tanner Blackwell (99 tackles), and junior defensive lineman Devin Reed (41 tackles) and Jake Young (39 tackles, three sacks), back to headline the unit. The Marvin Ridge offense must reload with senior wide receivers, Ethan Robitaille (six touchdown catches), Bryce Yaggi, and junior running back, Jacob Terwilliger, back in the lineup. Marvin Ridge has a major challenge within their own conference (SCC) each season with reigning state champions, Charlotte Catholic (3A) and Weddington (3AA) looming, and will have to prove they can hang in one of the state’s toughest leagues once again in 2021.

MONROE

Head Coach: Johnny Sowell (15th year as Monroe head football coach).

2019 Record: 6-6 (3-4 in the Southern Carolinas’ Conference (SCC).

Conference: Southern Carolinas’ Conference/3A.ai

Returning Starters: 11

Returning Lettermen: 14

Key Returning Starters: Omarion Huntley, Sr., OL/DL (6-7, 300); Omarion Rushing, Sr., RT/DL (6-3, 290); Jemarion Rushing, Sr., LT/DL (6-3, 295); Jordan Black, Sr., WR/DB (5-7, 155); Shaleak Knotts, Jr., WR/DB (6-3, 185); Elliott Reid, Jr., WR/DB (5-8, 165); Jack Crump, Sr., LB/RB/P (5-10, 195); Jaikhob Covington, Jr., WR/DB (5-9, 136); Montavious Waters, Jr., DL/OL (5-10, 250); Jadarian Perry, Jr., OL/DL (5-10, 240).

Key Returnees: Michael Wilson, Sr., RB/DB (5-10, 175); Wonnie Brown, Sr., WR/LB (6-1, 180).

Key Newcomers: Romel Wright, Sr., DL/FB/HB (6-2, 245) (Forest Hills transfer).

Outlook: Monroe has been inconsistent over the past three seasons going 18-19 in that span. This year, Coach Johnny Sowell and company will need five-star recruit, junior wide receiver, Shaleak Knotts (59 catches for 1,006 yards and 14 touchdowns, 19 Division I offers) to touch the ball early and often behind a massive offensive front featuring seniors in Omarion Huntley (6-7, 300) and twin brothers, Omarion Rushing (6-3, 290) and Jemarion Rushing (6-3, 295). The Redhawks’ defense will look to Forest Hills’ transfer, defensive end, Romel Wright (105 tackles last year) and senior linebacker, Jack Crump (66 tackles), to play big roles with the wide open offenses in the SCC. Monroe has a tough task playing the SCC, one of the state’s toughest league, but the Redhawks have the coaching, experience and talent to finish in the top of the league standings, which would have them well prepared for the 3A state playoffs.

PARKWOOD

Head Coach: Terry Gittens (1st year as Parkwood head coach).

2019 Record: 7-5 (4-3 in the Southern Carolinas’ Conference (SCC)).

Conference: Southern Carolinas’ Conference/3A.

Returning Starters: 4

Returning Lettermen: 8

Key Returning Players: Austin Burns, Sr., QB/OLB (6-2, 210); Cody Hardy, Jr., DE/TE (6-5, 240); Trenn Yetter, Sr., OL/DL (6-4, 230); Zack Bevelhymer, Sr., OL/DL (6-1, 200); Jay Little, Sr., LB/FB/S (5-10, 190); Brandon Logan, Sr., RB/LB (5-10, 180); Andrew Musser, Sr., CB/RB (6-1, 190).

Key Newcomers: Isaiah Mobley, So., WR/DB (6-2, 190); Cameron Enos, So., QB/FS (5-10, 160); Jaylin Meaders, So., FB/DL/LB (5-11, 200).

Outlook: Parkwood was one of the most improved teams in the state going 7-5 overall after going 4-18 in previous two seasons combined (2-9 both years). This year, new head coach, Terry Gittens (former Cox Mill assistant), has a challenge as Parkwood lost 26 seniors and returns only four starters from a year ago. The Rebels will need two-way playmakers in seniors, quarterback/linebacker, Austin Burns (104 tackles, five sacks last year), linemen, Zack Bevelhymer and Trenn Yetter, and junior defensive end/tight end, Cody Hardy (87 tackles, five sacks) to play big roles if Parkwood is going to stay in the middle of the SCC standings. If the Rebels can stay near the upper half of the league race, stay above .500 and return to the 3A state playoffs that would be a major step forward for Coach Gittens in his first year in charge.

PIEDMONT

Head Coach: Philip Mauro (1st year as Piedmont head coach).

2019 Record: 1-9 (0-7 in the Southern Carolinas’ Conference).

Conference: Southern Carolinas’ Conference/3A.

Returning Starters: N/A.

Returning Lettermen: N/A.

Key Returning Players: Ty Nicholas, Sr., DL (6-4, 275); Everett McLaughlin, Sr., WR (6-2, 160); Henry Saunders, Sr., QB (6-0, 175); Jerrett Rayfield, Sr., RB (5-8, 175); Ryan Whetzel, Sr., TE (6-4, 235); Evan Sawyer, Jr., LB (5-11, 160).

Key Returnees: Gunnar Diedrick, Jr., OL/DL (6-4, 250); Caleb Baucom, Jr., WR/DB (5-10, 160); Layton Duke, So., WR/DB (6-0, 170); Caden O’Neal, So., TE/LB (6-2, 215).

Key Newcomers: Garrett Brill, Fr., RB/LB (5-7, 175); Luke James, Sr., OL (6-4, 285); Yuscar Jacquez, Sr., WR/DB (5-5, 140); Frazier Williams, Sr., OL/DL (5-10, 230).

Outlook: Piedmont has struggled of late, going 9-34 in the last four years. The Panthers have an uphill task again this season with a new head coach, Philip Mauro, and a young roster. Senior quarterback, Henry Saunders, and classmate, running back, Jerrett Rayfield, will lead the Piedmont offense that will have to score more points (9 points per game in 2019). Meanwhile, the Panthers’ defense should be solid led by senior defensive end, Ty Nicholas (77 tackles, 8.5 sacks). If Piedmont can find a way to climb out of the bottom of the Southern Carolinas’ conference standings that would be a huge step for the program.

PORTER RIDGE

Head Coach: Michael Hertz (4th year as Porter Ridge head coach).

2019 Record: 7-6 (3-4 in the Southwestern 4A Conference).

Conference: Southwestern 4A/4A.

Returning Starters: 7

Returning Lettermen: 25

Key Returning Starters: Brandon Perry, Sr., RB (6-2, 195); Malik Jordan, Sr., DT (6-1, 270); Braeden Mcalister, Jr., K (6-1, 170); Jon Gamoneda, Sr., DT (5-10, 230); Jason Gonzalez, Sr., OG (6-1, 265).

Key Returnees: Steven Zayachkowsky, So., RB/LB (5-10, 175); David Oden, Jr., TE/DE (6-1, 215); Malachi Howell, Jr., TE/DE (6-2, 210); Myles Carroll, Jr., QB (6-0, 180); Caleb Jordan, Jr., RB/DB (6-0, 175).

Key Newcomers: O’Marion Taylor, So., RB (5-10, 195); Tristan Stitt, So., WR (6-5, 170); Aden Beatty, So., LB (6-2, 195); Jason Hertz, So., DE (6-3, 220).

Outlook: Porter Ridge has been consistent of late, averaging eight wins over the past four years. Keeping up that pace will be tough this year as the Pirates return only seven starters in the always brutal, Southwestern 4A conference. Porter Ridge will need senior tailback, Brandon Perry (1,081 yards rushing, 16 touchdowns) to carry the load. Meanwhile, senior defensive tackle, Malik Jordan (50 tackles, three sacks), must be big in the middle for his unit to succeed. Porter Ridge also has a special teams’ weapon in junior kicker, Braeden McCalister, who can help change field position. A young, Pirates’ team will have to grow up quickly to stay in the middle of the league standings and return to the playoffs for the 5th straight year.

SUN VALLEY

Head Coach: Drew Hackett (1st year as Sun Valley head coach).

2019 Record: 2-9 (1-6 in the Southern Carolinas’ Conference).

Conference: Southern Carolinas’ Conference/3AA.

Returning Starters: 3 (0 offense; 3 defense).

Returning Lettermen: 13

Key Returning Starters: Ethan Lunsford, Sr., LB (6-1, 190); Denmar Chambers, Jr., DL (6-3, 205); Andrew Macchiavello, Jr., DL (5-11, 245).

Key Returnees: Dominik Szlachetka, Sr., LB (6-1, 195).

Key Newcomers: N/A.

Outlook: Life without former All-American quarterback, Sam Howell, proved to be a struggle as a Sun Valley team that averaged 10 wins per season from 2016-2018, slipped to 2-9 last year. This year, the Spartans have been hit even harder by graduation and transfers and return only three starters on the defensive side of the ball. Sun Valley will need their defense to keep them in games with senior linebacker, Ethan Lunsford and junior defensive lineman, Denmar Chambers and Andrew Macchiavello, leading the way as their offense with 11 new starters grows up on the fly. 1st-year coach, Drew Hackett and company, will be in rebuilding mode this season as they navigate their run through one of the toughest leagues (SCC) in the state.

UNION ACADEMY

Head Coach: Justin Frashier (5th year as Union Academy head coach).

2019 Record: 6-5 (5-3 in the South Piedmont 1A Conference).

Conference: South Piedmont 1A Conference/1AA.

Returning Starters: 5

Returning Lettermen: 5

Key Returning Starters: Isaac King, Sr., RB/DB (5-10, 190); Connor Bradley, So., TE/LB (6-3, 205); Hayden Bradley, Sr., FB/LB (6-2, 230); Colson Honeycutt, Sr., LB/TE (5-10, 175); Gavin Melton, Sr., C/DT (6-0, 230).

Key Newcomers: Isaac Williams, Sr., C/DT (6-0, 230).

Outlook: The Cardinals have up and down the last three years going from 8-5 in 2017 to 3-8 in 2018 back to 6-5 last year. This season, Union Academy will lean on senior running back, Isaac King, who proved he can carry the load rushing for 1,766 yards (12.2 yards per carry) and 21 touchdowns last year. The Cardinals’ defense will also be solid with linebackers in senior, Colson Honeycutt, and sophomore linebacker, Connor Bradley (60 tackles, six sacks) leading the unit. Union Academy will try to fight its way back into the top half of the South Piedmont 1A conference standings and get back into the playoffs.

WEDDINGTON

Head Coach: Andy Capone (3rd Year at Weddington head coach).

2019 Record: 16-0 (7-0 in the Southern Carolinas’ Conference).

Conference: Southern Carolinas’ Conference/3AA.

Returning Starters: 14 (8 offense; 6 defense).

Returning Lettermen: 30

Key Returning Starters: Bryson Parker, Sr., DB (5-10, 185); Jalen Newman, Sr., DB (6-0, 180); Dante Casciola, Sr., QB (6-1, 180); Landon Backey, Jr., WR (5-11, 180); Austin Pronk, Sr., OL/DL (6-4, 290); Will Owens, Sr., OL/DL (6-2, 230); Alex McLaughlin, Sr., OL/DL (5-10, 230); Nick Aderholt, Sr., OL/DL (5-11, 250); Joe Zovistoski, Sr., DE/LB (6-2, 205); Cole Wiseman, Sr., DE/LB (6-0, 205).

Key Returnees: Kyle Parsons, Jr., RB/DB (6-0, 190); Kambridge Tuttle, Sr., WR/DB (5-10, 170); Trey Gordon, Sr. RB (5-9, 165); Evan Schwartz, Sr., LB (6-0, 205).

Outlook: The two-time, defending 3AA state champions begin life without reigning, N.C. Gatorade player of the year, All-American running back, Will Shipley, who is now on the Clemson Tigers’ football team. But no one will be feeling sorry for Weddington, who is 31-1 in the last two years, and returns 14 starters this season. Coach Capone will now to look to senior quarterback, Dante Casciola (1,571 yards, 26 touchdown passes) and a veteran offensive line (four seniors), including Nick Alderholt, Alex McLaughlin, Will Owens and Austin Pronk, to keep an offense that averaged 44 points per game rolling. Senior Trey Gordon (425 yards rushing) and junior, Kyle Parsons (492 yards rushing) will be tasked with replacing Shipley.

The Warriors defense returns six starters from a group that only allowed 6.5 points per contest a year ago. Weddington has an opportunistic group led by four seniors in edge rushers, Joe Zovistoski (9.5 sacks) and Cole Wiseman (8.5 sacks), and ball-hawking defensive backs, Jalen Newman (52 tackles) and Bryson Parker (44 tackles, four interceptions). Weddington expects to be playing for championships (SCC/3AA state), and has the coaching (no coaching staff turnover), experience and talent to a serious run at their third, straight 3AA state title.

Union County Conference Predictions

Rocky River Conference

  1. West Stanly; 2. Mount Pleasant; 3. Anson County; 4. Forest Hills; 5. Montgomery Central; 6. Central Academy.

Southern Carolinas Conference

  1. Weddington; 2. Charlotte Catholic; 3. Marvin Ridge; 4. Monroe; 5. Cuthbertson; 6. Sun Valley; 7. Parkwood; 8. Piedmont.

South Piedmont 1A Conference

1. Mountain Island Charter; 2. Thomas Jefferson Academy; 3. Pine Lake Prep; 4. Bessemer City; 5. Community School of Davidson; 6. Union Academy; 7. Cherryville; 8. Highland Tech; 9. Christ the King.

Southwestern 4A Conference

  1. Butler; 2. Myers Park; 3. Hickory Ridge; 4. Independence; 5. Porter Ridge; 6. Rocky River; 7. East Mecklenburg; 8. Garinger.

Preseason all-county team

Offense

QB – Dante Casciola, Weddington, 6-1, 180, Sr.

RB – Isaac King, Union Academy, 6-0, 195, Sr.

RB – Brandon Perry, Porter Ridge, 5-10, 190, Sr.

WR – A.J. Colombo, Cuthbertson, 5-7, 160, Jr.

WR – Shaleak Knotts, Monroe, 6-3, 185, Jr.

WR – Ethan Robitaille, Marvin Ridge, 5-11, 175, Sr.

OL – Alex McLaughlin, Weddington, 5-10, 230, Sr.

OL – Gavin Melton, Union Academy, 6-0, 250, Sr.

OL – Jacob Mullis, Forest Hills, 6-2, 260, Sr.

OL – Omarion Rushing, Monroe, 6-3, 290, Sr.

OL – Jemarion Rushing, Monroe, 6-3, 295, Sr.

OL – Trenn Yetter, Parkwood, 6-4, 235, Sr.

ATH – Kyle Parsons, Weddington, 6-0, 190, Jr.

Specialists

ATH/SPEC – Evan Bernard, Cuthbertson, 6-2, 190, Sr.

K/P – Braeden McCalister, Porter Ridge, 6-1, 170, Jr.

K/P – Caden Noonkester, Marvin Ridge, 6-6, 190, Sr.

Defense

DL – Joe Zovistoski, Weddington, 6-2, 205, Sr.

DL – Romel Wright, Monroe, 6-2, 245, Sr.

DL – Cody Hardy, Parkwood, 6-5, 240, Jr.

DL – Malik Jordan, Porter Ridge, 6-1, 270, Sr.

DL – Ty Nicholas, Piedmont, 6-4, 265, Sr.

LB/DL – Austin Burns, Parkwood, 6-2, 210, Sr.

LB – Tanner Blackwell, Marvin Ridge, 6-0, 210, Sr.

LB - Ethan Lunsford, Sun Valley, 6-1, 190, Sr.

LB – Cole Wiseman, Weddington, 6-0, 205, Sr.

LB – Andreau Rastia, Cuthbertson, 5-11, 185, Sr.

DB – Jalen Newman, Weddington, 6-0, 180, Sr.

DB – Bryson Parker, Weddington 5-10, 185, Sr.

DB – TyQuan Rushing, Forest Hills, 6-2, 170, Sr.

DB – Thomas Stamper, Cuthbertson, 6-2, 195, Jr.

Union County Preseason Offensive Player of the Year: Dante Casciola, Weddington, QB, Sr.

Union County Preseason Defensive Player of the Year: Romel Wright, Monroe, DE, Sr.

Union County Preseason Coach of the Year: Andy Capone, Weddington.