Pirates No. 1 in preseason poll
With the heavy turnover among Union County's head football coaches this offseason, compiling a preseason poll was more challenging.
But after speaking to players and/or coaches from all 11 teams over the last month, The Enquirer-Journal sports department has tabulated our 2013 predictions.
Porter Ridge High was a unanimous pick as the No. 1 team in UC by all five pollsters.
The Pirates have been voted Union County's top football team the past three seasons by The E-J.
The Pirates lost the 4A state championship game by one point last season (39-38 to New Bern) and finished 13-2.
Four county teams got past the first round of the playoffs last season, and those schools hold down the top four spots in the poll.
Weddington (9-3) edged out Sun Valley (9-4) for No. 2. The Warriors received three second-place votes and the Spartans got the other two.
Porter Ridge, Weddington and Sun Valley shared the Southern Carolina Conference title last year.
WHS gave the Pirates their only loss of the regular season by a touchdown in a defensive struggle (7-0), while the Spartans grabbed a share of the title with a 49-42 victory over the Warriors.
Porter Ridge defeated Sun Valley twice last year, including a 28-21 decision in the state quarterfinal round.
PR should be stellar again on defense with six starters returning. Offensively, the Pirates lost all five starters on the line but return their top receiver (Luke Bayly), a 1,300-yard rusher (Jerrick Robbins) and their quarterback (Isaiah Hicklin).
Sun Valley hopes to ride junior tailback Albert Funderburk to a conference championship. Funderburk is just the second player in Union County history to return after eclipsing 2,000 rushing yards the year before.
Juanne Blount, now a tailback for Gardner-Webb, put together back-to-back 2,000--yard rushing seasons for Forest Hills in 2007-08 as a run-first quarterback.
Monroe edged out Forest Hills for the No. 4 ranking in the preseason poll.
The Redhawks went 11-4 and made the 1A state semifinals in 2012. They're the only team in Union County with two players who have multiple Division I scholarship offers (receiver Jaylan Barbour and defensive back Tre Shun Wynn).
Forest Hills is the only UC school with a pair of 1,000-yard rushers returning (QB Jared Lee and running back C.J. Carelock).
The Redhawks received a third-place vote but also a seventh, while the Yellow Jackets ranged from No. 4 to No. 6 amongst the pollsters.
Marvin Ridge also got a third-place vote but landed at No. 6 in the poll.
The Mavericks have a first-year head coach in Dan Bailey, while Porter Ridge (Greg Neuendorf), Sun Valley (Paul Hall), Union Academy (Brad Hoover) and Cuthbertson (David Johnson) are also under new direction.
The Cavaliers were a distant seventh, beating out Piedmont by one point (19-18) in the voting.
Parkwood is expected to be improved after a combined 2-30 record over the past three seasons. The Rebels were picked ninth by four of the five pollsters.
Union Academy and Central Academy tied for 10th.
The Cougars were 10th in three polls while the Cardinals received a ninth-place vote.
Union County's 2013
preseason football poll
(based on voting by The E-J sports staff)
Rank, School (points)
1. Porter Ridge (50)
2. Weddington (43)
3. Sun Valley (42)
4. Monroe (31)
5. Forest Hills (30)
6. Marvin Ridge (28)
7. Cuthbertson (19)
8. Piedmont (18)
9. Parkwood (9)
t10. Central Academy (3)
t10. Union Academy (3)