Cox Mill, Weddington, Independence, Mallard Creek to start magical opening week of HS football

·4 min read
Cameron Williams

The 10th annual OrthoCarolina Kickoff Classic will feature Cox Mill, Weddington, Mallard Creek and Independence — four 4A teams with real designs on winning a state championship.

The four teams will play at Charlotte’s Memorial Stadium on Thursday, Aug. 17, one day before the start of the 2023 season for most high school football teams, and two days before Providence Day and Rock Hill’s Northwestern High make history by playing the first high school football game at Bank of America Stadium, home of the NFL’s Carolina Panthers.

Cox Mill will play Weddington at 5:15 p.m. Independence and Mallard Creek will follow. One $10 ticket is good for both games.

A look at each matchup:

Weddington vs. Cox Mill

This is a rematch of a 2022 4A Western second-round playoff game, which Weddington won 30-14.

Cox Mill coach Shawn Baker left for Hough High in January, and Breon Holmes was subsequently named the new head coach of the Chargers.

Playing in this event means a lot to him and he looks forward to the challenge of playing a team like Weddington with a highly touted championship pedigree.

“We are always stressing that if you want to be one of the best teams, you have to beat the best teams,” Holmes said. “I’ve been able to play against Weddington in my time at Ardrey Kell, so I understand the totality of what beating a team like that can do for your season, community and your team. We are excited about the opportunity and know it is going to be a challenge.”

Weddington, which has won multiple N.C. state championships, lost in the 2022 regional final to Greensboro Grimsley. Warriors coach Andy Capone said that loss stung, and Weddington is anxious to hit the field again to put it behind them.

“That loss really sat with us for a little bit,” Capone said. “I think overall our kids have done a great job of moving forward and letting (the loss) fuel them. We’ve had a really strong off-season with the kids working really hard and just making sure they are ready to go. There are things we can learn as a coaching staff from that loss and hopefully, we will learn and continue to grow.”

Independence vs. Mallard Creek

The Independence Patriots — or “Big I,” as they are known around Charlotte — had one of the best offenses in the state last year totaling an average of 41.8 points per game, well above the national average of 19.2.

They return one of the most talented quarterbacks in the state in junior Justin Little. He had more than 3,000 yards passing to go along with 27 touchdowns. With his powerhouse offense, Patriots head coach DJ McFadden is looking forward to the challenge of playing the stout defense of Mallard Creek to start the season.

“We know what to expect,” McFadden said. “I spent some time at Mallard Creek and I know they are going to play big, fast and physical. They are always one of the best defenses in the state and that is part of the reason that we took this game. We feel like we are one of the best offenses in the state, so what better way to open up the season than to see where we are offensively.”

For McFadden, this is one of those “come full circle” moments for him. He was the quarterback at Independence during two of the seven consecutive titles the Patriots won in the early 2000s, and coaching at his alma mater is truly special for him.

“This means everything to me,” McFadden said. “I’ve played in this game, played in this stadium. It’s like I told my kids; it’s games in that stadium that you will remember 10 to 15 years from now. To be able to lead this program and have the opportunity to lead the kids in a game like this, this will be something they will remember.”

Mallard Creek is coming off an 8-4 season in which it played one of the toughest schedules among all the teams in the state. This is a tall task in the first game of the season for the Mavericks’ defense, but it is one coach Kennedy Tinsley is going to embrace.

“(The game) is huge,” Tinsley said. “In my opinion, it is all about how you play at the end of the year. The season will hopefully give you as many opportunities that you set up to find any weaknesses or strengths and ultimately build your team.”

This is a Mavericks team that held seven of their opponents last year to single-digit points, and they return a few key pieces to their defensive unit as well despite being fairly young.

“DJ Jones was a starter on this past year’s team,” Tinsley mentioned. “Jerome Tripplin was a defensive lineman. The majority of our guys will have played JV and been a part of our program for a few years. We have our work cut out for us, but I am confident that we can get back on track and be where we need to be defensively.”