As the North Cross Raiders prepare for their opening game against Ben L. Smith, Greensboro, NC on Friday night, one might ask the following question: is it even possible for this group to attain the level of dominance they achieved in 2008?
To recap: last year’s squad outperformed their competition on every level imaginable. Literally. After a loss to open the season, the Raiders won their next 11 games en route to the VISAA Division III State Championship. In those contests, the Raiders averaged an unheard of 43.6 points per game, and enjoyed an average margin of victory of 35 points.
Needless to say even if the Raiders repeat as state champions, they almost certainly will do so without the “style points” racked up by the 2008 team. Fortunately, the Raiders won’t have to measure themselves against history. Instead, this group is looking forward to the task at hand.
“Coming into the season we really wanted to put last year behind us, because it doesn’t matter anymore. It’s a new season with new challenges,” head coach Lee Johnson said.
The Raiders’ main challenge will be incorporating a host of new faces on offense. Among those lost to graduation include All-State quarterback Glenn Williams, and 4 of 6 starters along the offensive line.
“It’s tough,” Johnson said, “especially losing so many on the offensive line – that’s one of our holes right now.”
Junior Fuller Clark, a two-year starter at wide receiver, will slide over and assume the quarterback duties in 2009. “We knew going into the winter that it was gonna be Fuller’s job to take,” Johnson said. “He’s a smart kid and a good athlete and should do well for us there.”
One thing that should work in Clark’s favor is the presence of Tyler Caveness in the backfield. Caveness, a senior, rushed for 1,900 yards last season, and is the type of back that can take over games, and perhaps more importantly take the pressure off of his new quarterback.
“He is definitely the head of what we think is a good, solid running game,” Johnson said. “He’s the kind of guy who can take it 90 yards if you give him a seam.”
The success of Caveness and Clark is tied inherently with the performance of the new offensive line, which remains a work in progress. “I think they’re getting more comfortable with each other, and I’m getting more comfortable with them,” Johnson said of the unit. “A lot of it is just getting reps with each other and meshing – which is key with all of the communication that has to happen – and it just takes time.”
As the offense finds its way, the defense will be leaned upon heavily early on in the season. And that might not be a bad thing, since the unit surrendered fewer than 10 points per game last season.
“Our defense is definitely a strong point right now,” Johnson said. “Our offense is not at the point where I would feel comfortable getting into a shootout with anyone.”
The schedule doesn’t do the Raiders any favors this season, either. North Cross will take on two public schools, Ben L. Smith, Greensboro (NC) and James Monroe (W.Va.), as well as Blessed Sacrament, whom the Raiders defeated in the state title game – but the school also dealt North Cross their only loss last season. Also on the calendar are Atlantic Shores Christian, who captured the VISFA Division II State Championship, and Charlotte Latin (N.C.), who has won 4 of the last 5 NCISAA State Titles.
“Obviously, if we can get to the playoffs, we’ll be prepared because of the teams we play,” Johnson said.
Ultimately, with the roster changes and daunting schedule, Johnson and the Raiders have committed to taking things one day at a time. Only one thing is certain – the season ahead has the team’s full attention.
“I’m hoping we can be a team that gets better with each week,” said Johnson. “If we can do that, I think we have a chance to be pretty good. But if we’re not focused, we can easily lose some games.” Kickoff in Greensboro is set for 7:30 on Friday night.By Matt Reeve [email protected]