OLIN—There is a different feeling at North Iredell entering the 2019 season.
And it’s a welcomed one.
The Raiders knocked the chip off their shoulders early in 2018, beating Wilkes Central in the season opener and snapping a 25-game losing streak.
Two more victories followed. They finished 3-8. Not great but definitely progress on the heels of consecutive winless seasons.
North Iredell intends to build on that.
“I would say there are higher expectations for success,” Raiders head coach David Lewis said. “They got a taste of getting back in the win column. They want more.”
Second-year assistant coach Ashley Stovall, who played football with Lewis at Statesville, assumes the role of offensive coordinator.
The coaching staff also includes, among others, assistants Tom Harper, Danny Nicholson, Johnny Turner and Bryan Tutterrow, all of whom have been with Lewis since he took over in 2016.
“Having those four the whole time, I believe it’s built some continuity,” Lewis said, “and I feel like we have a good core group of kids who’ve bought into what we’re doing.”
Joe Gaither is back behind center. This is his third year as varsity quarterback although he shared those duties as a sophomore and missed some action as a junior.
Lewis expects Gaither’s productivity to grow just as he has as a player.
“If teams load up in the box Joe can make them pay,” Lewis said. “He’s done a good job maturing. He’s providing leadership. That maturity can go a long way.”
Gaither is one of eight returning players on offense. That group includes three linemen—Jayden Turner (6-4, 275), Ben Gaither (6-3, 285) and Nathan Akers (5-9, 260).
Dillion Hobbs (5-10, 180), Fabian Summers (5-9, 205) and James Jackson (5-7, 145) are vying for playing time at running back. They were JV members a year ago. Preseason scrimmages perhaps determine who gets more touches, but “all will be” in the backfield “at some point,” according to Lewis.
Returning starters Clay Jones (5-10, 185) and C.J. Parise (6-1, 190) anchor the defense at linebacker. The Raiders have six of their 11 starters back on defense, including safety Hunter Bolden, an All-County defensive back.
Bolden is one of 12 seniors on a roster of players who were four or five years old the last time the Raiders qualified for the state playoffs in 2006. If they are to help them end the drought, the time is now.
“They realize, like every senior class does, that this is it,” Lewis said. “There is a sense of urgency.”
North Iredell has winnable nonconference games on its schedule.
The road back to the playoffs will require a breakthrough in the North Piedmont Conference. Last year’s improvements did not translate to the NPC, where the Raiders finished 0-5.
“If things go right, I think people will be surprised,” Lewis said. “There are things we can’t control, like the injury bug. But there are things we can control: making good decisions, taking care of the ball.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Hunter Bolden: It was not necessarily wise to throw in the direction of Bolden last season. The 6-foot, 165-pound senior safety enjoyed a great junior year. He intercepted six passes—returning one for a touchdown—to complement his 10 pass breakups. The All-County defensive back also forced a couple of fumbles. As a receiver, Bolden hauled in 33 passes for 518 yards and three TDs.
Tre McClelland: The 6-foot, 240-pounder is expected to see more playing time this season as a defensive lineman. Lewis believes McClelland is motivated and hungry to get after it up front. “Since he wasn’t a full-time starter last year, I think he feels he’s got something to prove,” Lewis said.
Spencer Morrison: His season ended prematurely a year ago after suffering an ACL injury while playing soccer. Morrison returns to handle the kicking and punting duties. “Being able to punt it where he wants it and to get it high and with hang time as well as get kickoffs to end zone that can help us win field position battles,” said Lewis, noting Morrison had drawn interest from some small colleges. “He’ll be a big part of what we do.”
RAIDERS AT A GLANCE
Head coach: David Lewis, fourth season
Lewis’ record: 3-30
Assistant coaches: Tom Harper, Ashley Stovall, Bryan Tutterrow, Danny Nicholson, Johnny Turner, Shelton Parks, Josh Gaither, Derrick Stevenson
Returning starters: Offense 8; Defense 6
2018 Record: 3-8 (0-5)
Wilkes Central, W 20-14
Forbush, W 28-22
Alexander Central, 54-3
Lake Norman, L 39-6
West Iredell, W 10-9
NW Cabarrus, L 58-6
Carson, L 57-30
Statesville, L 55-0
West Rowan, L 49-7
East Rowan, L 35-0
South Iredell, L 54-6
Aug. 23 vs. Wilkes Central
Aug. 30 at Forbush
Sept. 6 vs. North Wilkes
Sept. 13 vs. Lake Norman
Sept. 20 at West Iredell
Sept. 27 at Carson*
Oct. 11 vs. St. Stephens
Oct. 18 at Statesville*
Oct. 25 vs. West Rowan*
Nov. 1 vs. South Iredell*
Nov. 8 at East Rowan*
*-North Piedmont Conference game