Casey Ray is the guy the McDowell offense turns to for answers.
But the junior quarterback took a long pause Monday before saying he has “no clue” why the Titans football program is experiencing perhaps record-participation for this season.
Approximately 90 players (50 varsity, 40 junior varsity) came out for the first official day of practice on Aug. 1.
Ray is one of the most valued members of that group – he passed for 1,122 yards and nine touchdowns with 11 interceptions as a sophomore.
Ray is believed to be the first 10th grader to throw for 1,000 or more yards in school history and he only saw time in eight games.
“The team is looking pretty good and we’re going to be ready to go Friday (at home against season-opening opponent R-S Central),” Ray said.
“I’ve got more experience and that makes everything easier. I have a better connection with the receivers than ever before.”
The Titans went 2-9 in 2013 and winless (0-6) in the Mountain Athletic Conference. They have been picked to finish sixth out of seven teams in this year’s MAC preseason coaches poll.
Based off those prognostications, senior wide receiver Dallas Myers (33 receptions for 444 yards and five touchdowns) said this Titans team is bound to overachieve.
“Since the first day, I’ve just had a feeling,” Myers aid.
“Everyone is all-in. And I think we have a pretty good chance at having a better record than last year. Casey has gotten stronger and his accuracy has improved a whole lot. Plus I think our young kids are really dedicated to what they are doing.”
Ray’s other options at receiver include junior Ethan McMahan (14 receptions for 186 yards) and senior D.J. Martin (12 receptions for 125 yards and two touchdowns).
Martin and fellow senior Nick Robinson are two of the top returning tacklers for the Titans defense.
McDowell is the largest high school in Western North Carolina with 1,910 students and lost four games by seven or less points in 2013.
Robinson missed the latter part of his junior season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament and has previously undergone shoulder surgery as well.
“I feel like if we show up on Friday nights that this team has a lot of heart and a lot of talent,” Robinson said.
“Basketball and baseball are usually the big sports here. But you see the number of first-year players coming out and it definitely makes you feel good as a starter. Maybe we inspired some guys to come out and play ball.”
McDowell was eligible for last year’s NCHSAA 4-AA playoffs, but opted out.
Opting out of the playoffs is allowed by the NCHSAA. But it requires a majority decision and the signatures of the school’s athletic director, coach, principal and superintendent, which McDowell executed in all cases.
Titans coach Carson Gowan cited safety concerns for withdrawing his team from consideration.
Gowan has been the coach at McDowell since 2008 and compiled a 17-50 record during that time. Prior to his hire, Gowan was a Titans assistant coach for 21 years.