Every year is a delicate balance for Asheville High.
Can the Cougars walk the line to a Mountain Athletic Conference championship, as they have the past 10 years?
As usual, the answer lies in how many key contributors can stay healthy.
“We feel really good about the first group (of starters) that we’re going to put out there and how they match up,” Asheville coach Danny Wilkins said.
“We’re excited about what they can do. But after that? I’m a little concerned, and we’re thin in some spots where we have a history of injuries. We got to hope we can limit that stuff, but that’s really no different than a lot of years for us.”
Asheville is again one of the preseason favorites in the MAC with a half-dozen returning all-conference players – Pete Leota, Christian Green, Reggie Battle, Cade Pearson, Neal Hutchins and Jose Daniels.
Battle (running back), Leota (lineman) and Green (linebacker) were also All-WNC players in 2014.
But illustrating Wilkins’ point, Daniels (a linebacker/wide receiver) is expected to be out until at least September with a broken ankle.
The Cougars kick things off Aug. 21 at home against defending Western North Carolina Athletic Conference champ Franklin.
“Losing a kid like Jose is tough, and then not really knowing when you’re going to get him back,” Wilkins said.
“A lot of football is going to be played between now and September. We’re going to dress about 40 kids, but when you lose one like him, it changes who you are.”
Asheville returns four starters on both sides of the ball from last season’s 12-2 team.
Battle rushed for 1,449 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2014 and will share the backfield with fullback Aquila Smith. Their hand-offs should come from first-year varsity quarterback Devon Davidson. Protecting these assets are an offensive line that includes Leota, one of the most heavily-recruited Western North Carolina athletes from the Class of 2016.
The 6-foot-5, 300-pound senior has scholarship offers from Appalachian State, Boston College, East Carolina, Georgia Southern, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest.
“It’s important to me that I’m not the main focus, I want everyone to talk about my team,” Leota said.
“We’re a whole new team from last year and we want to chase our dreams.”
Green had a breakout season as a junior, making 159 tackles (101 solo and 15 for a loss) with three sacks.
Wilkins (153-41-1) is the winningest coach in Asheville history and has been in charge of the Cougars since 2000. Wilkins acknowledges that his career is winding down, but as in the past, has not stated any kind of timetable for retirement.