Beyond the Scoreboard: What to look for in the 2018 WNC high-school football season

Alex Flinn, Reynolds High
Quarterback Alex Flinn leads a Reynolds High team that hasn't lost to a WNC opponent since 2014. (Photo courtesy of Flinn)

With the 2018 WNC high-school football season fast approaching, the area’s 32 schools will begin practice later this month.

While everyone starts with a clean slate, a 0-0 record and the optimism that this will be the year, many questions await for players, coaches and fans.

Among those:

1.Can anybody challenge Reynolds?

A 27-14 win by Asheville High midway through the 2014 season was the last time a local team beat Reynolds.

Since then the 3A Rockets have reeled off 33 straight wins against WNC schools, including 26 in a row against conference opponents.

Coach Shane Laws’ teams have won 24 consecutive regular-season games against league foes and beat conference opponent Erwin twice in the playoffs in that span.

And most of those wins have been by convincing margins.

With quarterback Alex Flinn and running back I’dre Bell back from an explosive offense, Reynolds is once again an overwhelming favorite to win the Western Mountain Athletic Conference for a fourth straight season.

Erwin and Roberson, both of whom scored 34 points in losses to Reynolds last season, and Asheville High will be the best bets to snap the Rockets’ long winning streaks.

2.Will Christ School need more than one football to spread around the wealth of talent?

No WNC football team has a deeper pool of talent at the skill positions than the Greenies.

First-year head coach Tommy Langford has a lot of options once the ball is snapped.

Tailback Sidney Gibbs averaged 225 yards rushing per game last and is on pace to finish among WNC’s all-time leading ground gainers.

Quarterback Navy Shuler missed almost all the 2017 season with arm injuries, but he showed flashes of the kind of potential that the son of WNC football legend Heath Shuler possesses.

In very limited time, Navy Shuler completed 12-of-14 passes for 334 yards and seven TDs.

Receivers Kaedin Robinson (1,417 total yards, 16 touchdowns for Reynolds in 2016 before missing last season with a knee injury), Keyvaun Cobb (17 catches for 229 yards) and Aydan White (15 receptions,. 261 yards) are all game-breakers.

3.How will the Smoky Mountain 1A Conference play out?

How good is the state’s best football conference? Four different schools have won state titles in the past seven seasons in a league that has claimed 32 state championships since 1972, when the N.C. High School Athletic Association began playing state-wide title games in four (now eight) classes.

Cherokee, Murphy and Swain shared the conference regular-season title a year ago, and Robbinsville wasn’t far behind.

Murphy may have a slight edge this season as coach David Gentry closes in on 400 wins, but the league title – and likely favorite for a state crown - will be determined in October when these powers began knocking each other off.

4.Who is the best team in the Mountain 6 Conference?

Franklin won the inaugural conference race last season, the fourth time in seven seasons coach Josh Brooks’ Panthers went through league play undefeated. But the program lost 15 starters off a 13-1 team.

Pisgah, with Tanner Wike (2,888 total yards, 32 rushing and passing TDs combined last season) and receiver Cam Walker back, may be the favorite.

Hendersonville could challenge Christ School for most returning talent at the skill positions, with receiver Kalin Ensley (63 catches, 1,1258 yards, 19 TDs) and running back Ty’rese Hunt (1,309 yards rushing, 17 scores).

5.Is the Western Highlands Conference wide open?

Over the past three seasons, Mountain Heritage is 35-6, including 15-2 in league play with three straight conference titles.

Mitchell is 39-6, 14-3 in that span, with all three conference losses to Heritage.

But both teams lost four-year starters at quarterback, and the Cougars’ Trey Robinson and Mitchell’s Ben Young were the two most prolific yard gainers in the history of WNC football.

Polk County might be the favorite, with cagey veteran coach Bruce Ollis back in charge.

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