ASHEVILLE – Asheville High football coach Danny Wilkins does not even feign interest in preseason expectations any more.
He and the Cougars are in the midst of the longest conference championship streak in school history (nine years). That unprecedented run began the same autumn (2005) that Asheville won its first state football title since 1922.
As usual, depth will be a concern for the Cougars with only about 36 true varsity players dressing out on Friday nights this fall. But among that group are returning All-Mountain Athletic Conference selections Peter Leota, Jose Daniels and Cameron Ray.
Tevin Salters (1,203 yards and 13 touchdowns with seven interceptions) is the most productive quarterback in the MAC with starting experience from 2013.
It’s enough to make Asheville the No. 7 team in NCPreps.com preseason 3-A state rankings and the overall favorite in the split MAC 3-A/4-A league.
“We feel pretty good about the summer. The kids’ attendance and effort have been good, and we’ve got some guys in some key spots who are coming back,” Wilkins said. “A lot of key pieces of the puzzle, you just hope it’ll translate if we can stay healthy.”
No jeweler in the far reaches of Western North Carolina needs to hold his breath awaiting a call from Murphy football coach David Gentry any time soon.
The defending NCHSAA 1-A champion Bulldogs are perched in the catbird’s seat for 1-A football — ranked No. 1 in the preseason poll from NCPreps.com.
“It’s nice recognition, and it’s good for the mountains,” Gentry said. “The preseason stuff gives your program a little prestige, but it’s not really anything to hang your hat on. They don’t give rings out for that.”
Murphy has started its last two state-championship seasons with a combined 0-5 record. And Gentry said he will feel fortunate if the Bulldogs are .500 or better after playing Darlington School, Georgia (Aug. 22), defending WNC Athletic Conference champion Franklin (Aug. 29), the Q. Foundation (Sept. 5), Smoky Mountain (Sept. 12) and Gilmer County, Georgia (Sept. 19).
The first Smoky Mountain Conference game for Murphy is Sept. 26 at Rosman.
Seven returning All-SMC players are back from last year’s 13-3 NCHSAA 1-A championship team — Malachi Beaver, Bradley Puccio, Deion Johnson, Brody Loudermilk, Tyler Wiley, Bailey Beaver and Foster Stroup.
Swain County (No. 7 in 1-A) and Robbinsville (No. 12 in 1-A) were the only other WNC teams in NCPreps.com’s preseason rankings.
All-state recognition for WNC players
Smaller schools from WNC are well-represented on the NCPreps.com preseason all-state football teams.
Christ School linemen Austin Cooke and Walker Lanning are NCISAA selections. Each Greenie is a rising senior and hails from Henderson County.
Owen’s Jager Gardner (running back), Brevard’s Isaac Bingle (kicker), Franklin’s Jeremiah Young (linebacker) and Polk County’s D.J. Twitty (lineman) were part of the NCHSAA 2-A all-state team. Gardner was named the classification’s preseason player of the year.
Finally, the 1-A team consisted of Malachi Beaver (lineman), Puccio (tight end) and Wiley (defensive back) from Murphy as well as Spencer McCoy (running back/linebacker) from Swain County.
No area players were selected to the NCPreps.com 3-A or 4-A all-state teams.
Smoky’s Raleigh to play in Wrigley
Smoky Mountain rising senior Cal Raleigh has accepted an invitation to the Aug. 16 Under Armour All-America baseball game.
The exhibition will be televised on the Major League Baseball Network and held next month inside venerable Wrigley Field in Chicago.
Raleigh earned All-WNC Athletic Conference and Citizen-Times All-WNC recognition this past season after batting .351 with 16 RBIs, 11 stolen bases, six doubles, a home run and 18 runs scored. He was 2-1 with a save as a pitcher with a 1.67 earned run average and 30 strikeouts in 37 2-3 innings.
Since 2008, 151 of the 171 players selected to the Under Armour All-America baseball game have been drafted by MLB teams (including 42 first-round picks).
Raleigh has committed to play in college for Clemson and was also an All-WNC selection for Smoky Mountain’s basketball team as a junior.