Murphy might have a leg up on the rest of the Smoky Mountain Conference.
Or at least an arm.
The Bulldogs are the preseason SMC favorite according to league coaches and have its only former state-championship quarterback.
Dalton Kent threw for 1,795 yards and 19 touchdowns with three interceptions as a sophomore in 2013. However, his junior year only lasted nine games.
Kent (1,092 yards and 10 touchdowns with four interceptions) was taking part in a practice drill when he broke an ankle. The senior sat out the next five games with the injury, and coupled with the loss of leading rusher Gaige Cox (knee), Murphy was unable to live up to a preseason No. 1 ranking in NCHSAA 1-A football.
Kent, who is 6-foot-1, 220 pounds, is one of 16 returning starters (nine offense, seven defense) for the winningest coach in Western North Carolina history — David Gentry (356 career victories) has been with the Bulldogs since 1983.
He has brought six state championships back to Cherokee County — 1986, 1987, 1991, 1996, 2011 and 2013.
“We’ve got Dalton back, but we’re not going to have some of the marquee names out there (at the skill positions) that we’ve had in the past,” Gentry said.
“We might not be able to average almost 40 points a game like we have recently. We’re going to have to play better defense and we’re going to have to be more disciplined.”
Sophomore Kadrain McRae (646 yards, nine touchdowns) and senior Ozzy Corrales (198 yards, five touchdowns) will look for holes behind an offensive line with four returning starters. That unit includes former All-Smoky Mountain Conference player Shannon Wilson, as well as fellow senior Westley Graves and junior Isaac Stafford.
Matthew Lovingood (625 yards and six touchdowns with no interceptions) is the quarterback who took over when Kent was injured. The senior has been moved to tight end for the time being.
Sophomore Joey Curry could also contribute in a number of roles, including quarterback. He is the younger brother of former Bulldogs signal caller Michael Curry.
As for defense, Corrales (146 tackles, three for a loss and two fumble recoveries) was an All-SMC linebacker a year ago. Wilson (95 tackles, seven for a loss) also plays linebacker, while junior Adam Powell made 96 tackles (four for a loss) and three sacks in 2014.
Note: The 72-page Citizen-Times Western North Carolina football preview will be included in the Aug. 16 edition of the newspaper.