EAST FLAT ROCK
Purely for motivational purposes, East Henderson football coach Brett Chappell might prefer it if his Eagles were the hunter and not the hunted.
But it’s not going to work out that way this season in the Western North Carolina Athletic Conference.
Not with this much talent.
A cast of three returning All-WNCAC selections, including dynamo defensive back/wide receiver Steffon Hill, has earned the Eagles the nod as the WNCAC’s prohibitive favorite.
“That’s not something that we talk a whole lot about,” Chappell said. “It doesn’t change this team’s goals or the fact that we’re going to have to work for it.”
Hill is a 5-foot-11, 180-pound senior who has been tabbed the WNCAC’s preseason player of the year by the 2-A/3-A league’s coaches.
He hauled in 43 receptions for 814 yards and four touchdowns from fellow senior Seth Owen a year ago. Along with Hill and Owen, linebacker/tight end Tyler Sexton was part of last year’s All-WNCAC team.
“All the (preseason) attention just puts a target on our back, we know that,” Hill said. “We have to back it up. We have to keep the intensity high with everything we do.”
Defending WNCAC champion Franklin has been picked to finish second this season despite graduating close to 30 seniors.
And a major injury has already affected the Panthers — junior quarterback Luke Keener tore an anterior cruciate ligament and will be replaced under center by sophomore Dalton Cochran.
Pisgah’s 2-8 record in 2011 was its worst since 2000.
The Black Bears and former All-WNCAC defensive end/tight end Garrett Holland look to bounce back starting Friday at Roberson.
Coach David Pressley said junior running back Dustin Messer is questionable for the season-opener after tweaking his knee in a scrimmage this week with Bunker Hill.
Pisgah is still a relatively young team with only 12 seniors. Eleven starters (seven offense, four defense) are back from last year.
“I like where we are, our kids have responded real well to the year we had last year,” Pressley said.
“We’re young, but I still feel like they’re a lot more experienced than the group we had in 2011. And you can’t beat experience. I know Brett’s got a really good football team over at East. After that, the rest of us are pretty even.”
For the fourth straight year, the Pisgah-Tuscola game will be spotlighted by the Great American Rivalry Series. The Haywood County matchup is scheduled for Oct. 5 in Canton, and, as has been the case in the past, the GARS will webcast the game nationally and hand out scholarships to players from both schools.
“We can’t get rid of them,” Pressley said jokingly. “We thought it was a one-year deal, and it’s become so much more. It’s great notoriety for both schools and says a lot about the game.”
North Henderson (J.D. Dinwiddie) and Tuscola (Brandon Allen) were the only WNCAC programs to change coaches in the offseason.
Allen has back two former All-WNCAC selections — linebacker Hunter Creson and defensive back Levi Duffield. A third player, lineman Carter Poore, has moved outside the Tuscola school district.
North Henderson junior Zack Gahagan was a 1,000-yard passer as a sophomore and has committed to play college baseball for North Carolina.