The clock is ticking faster and faster these days as the upcoming football season officially begins in eight days (next Thursday, August 16 when Kannapolis-Brown travels to Shelby; everybody else begins on Friday). The Watauga
High football team will begin its season next Friday night (August 17) in Asheville against A.C. Reynolds.
And the "Tom Wright" era at WHS officially begins. Wright, who hasn't been a head coach since 2001 (when he led the WHS women's basketball team to 17 wins and the state playoffs), is anxious to get it started.
"I can't wait," he said. "The moment has arrived. It's definitely a lot of work , especially being the head coach. There's a lot to oversee. Being as assistant (which Wright has been on-and-off in recent years ), you don't have that manyresponsibilties."
The Pioneers are pretty much in the same boat they were in at this time last year. WHS was coming off a disappointing season (3-8), and it lost to valuable experience to graduation. But the Pioneers silenced the critics and posted their first winning season (7-6) since 2007. They also won their first state playoff game in four years (when they knocked off Alexander Central 17-14 in the opening round at "The Groce").
"It's a lot like last year, pretty much the same thing," said senior Tripp Taylor, who takes over as the starting quarterback replacing Ethan Greene, who graduated in May. "Ethan had a great senior year, but now it's my turn. And I'm ready for it. I got some good experience last year, so I'm very excited about getting this chance."
Taylor displayed his moxey in WHS' first-round game in the state playoffs last November. With Greene hobbled by a badly sprained ankle late in the first half, Taylor came on in relief and weathered the storm until Greene returned.
"That was a huge experience for me," Taylor said. "I'm glad I was able to come out of it with a positive feeling."
And the Pioneers will be relying on Taylor's savy this season. WHS will be young at certain positions with the loss of a great senior class led by Greene, Alex Fox, Kyle Chambers and Cody McKinney, just to name a few.
"Those guys were great leaders, the entire senior class was," said rising senior Collin Augustine. "I really fed off those guys, and I'm ready to assume my role as a leader this year."
Augustine, a linebacker, finished third on the team in tackles last season (102.). He also had 14 tackles-for-loss and 2.5 quarterback sacks. But Augustine, who will be a two-way performer this season, is ready to be WHS' go-to guy at running back this year.
"And I can't wait to carry the ball," he said. "I didn't get as many carries as I wanted to last year, but we had Kyle and he was a great runner. And coach (Tim Pruitt, the man Wright replaced) wanted me to concentrate on playing defense."
Augustine only had 18 carries, but he averaged nearly seven yards a pop (6.6).
"Collin is a very good football player, and he's very intelligent on the field," Wright said. "I'm expecting a lot out of him this year, but he's also expecting a lot out of himself."
And the PIoneers, as a team, are expecting a lot out of themselves as well. They quieted the critics last year, and turned into one of the surprise teams in the area.
"Those guys last year, they really motivated us," Taylor said. "We may have been around a .500 team, but we played hard in every game. And we're looking to do the same thing this year. We may not be big, but we have very good speed."
"And that's our goal this season," Wright said. "We want our playmakers to touch the ball, and put them in a position where they can challenge the defense."
And if you think the critics have been tough on WHS in recent years (since Eric Breitenstein, a rising senior at Wofford College and the pre-season Southern Conference Offensive Player of the Year, graduated in the spring of 2008), Taylor has heard a few wisecracks himself.
"Yeah, a lot of people have questioned my size, even my teammates have said something about it," said Taylor, who stands 5-foot-9 and weighs 155 pounds. "I'm not as big as your normal high school quarterback, but I have confidence in myself. I've been playing quarterback since
the third grade, and I know I have what it takes to be successful at this level. I feel the same way about our team."
Our coverage of WHS' season opener at ACR next Friday night begins at 6:30 p.m. on Oldies 100.7 FM next.
NOTES: This will be the 13th meeting between the Rockets and the Pioneers. ACR leads the all-time series 10-2, and the Rockets have won the last four meetings. But the last three games in this series have been decided by the mear total of 22 points (an average of seven points a game). The Rockets defeated WHS 21-14 in the season opener at Jack Groce Stadium last season. The Pioneers haven't won in Asheville since 2006, when they defeated ACR 24-23 in the Class 4A Western Semifinals.