The Observer’s Langston Wertz Jr. answers your sports-related questions here. Have a question? Reply at the bottom of this blog or email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Q. Langston, I saw you on TV talking about how Butler will beat Independence next year. I can see where you might think that. You got excited off one game?
I think Butler has the potential to be really special next season and even this season. I think having the junior varsity team and the varsity team beat Independence within 24 hours of each other last season was a boost Butler needed. I think they believed they could do it before but to actually do it is special.
Beating any Tom Knotts team is hard. The man has lost four games in nine seasons. There have been some forfeit losses on his record, that were not of his own doing, but Butler was the first Mecklenburg County team to beat one of his teams since South Mecklenburg beat West Charlotte 14-13 in the 1992 second round playoffs. That’s an amazing run of dominance over local teams.
This year, I think Independence is the state championship favorite. I think last year’s final, with all respects to New Bern, deserves a bit of asterisk.
I’m not counting the Patriots losing their best player, TE Mario Carter, in preseason, but in the final month of the season, Independence deals with losing six players, having their coach suspended and all the fallout behind that, then losing the two regular season games. In the state final, the Patriots dropped a touchdown pass that would’ve given them a 21-0 lead and another that would’ve stretched a lead later on.
That’s football yes, but I’m not sure that was the real Independence we saw last season in December. This year’s team is not as talented but seems to be determined. They remind me of the first Chris Leak team in 2000.
We’ll see what happens.
Q. Langston, what did you think of North Mecklenburg quarterback Bradley Clay?
I really liked him. He was elusive and had a good arm. He avoided a legit Division I linebacker -- Butler’s Hawatha Bell -- a few times when it looked like Bell was just simply going to crunch him. He’s got a good receiving corp, too. North Mecklenburg is young and has a young offensive line. If they get it together and give him time, Clay will put up numbers – and the Vikings will make a real run in the ME-CA 7. That league looks wide open right now.
Q. Langston, did you see Wilmington Hoggard beat New Bern again? That's twice in a row. You still think Independence is the best team in the state?
I think in high school it’s important, moreso than in college, to remember every year is a new year. I don’t think any of the top 4A teams in the state (Independence, Hoggard, Butler, New Bern, Raleigh Millbrook) would have competed for last year’s state title. I’d say overall this year’s team talent is not as deep as last year’s or as top-heavy. But yes, I saw Hoggard's win.
Q. Langston, what do you see in the future for CMS football? I saw Independence struggle to beat Olympic 13-6 in junior varsity Thursday. I think a change is coming. You agree?
I think we’re about to enter a Golden Age of sports in Mecklenburg County. We’ve got a crop of young athletes, especially in football and basketball, that I’ve not seen before.
This year, in football, there’s a lot of young talent. In the next two years they’ll emerge. The opening of a new school in Mint Hill in two years will thin the deep talent pool that fuels Butler and Independence, but not too much.
I think Independence is feeling the after effects of new lines that have moved some kids into northern schools such as Mallard Creek, which is enjoying a spectacular sophomore season.
And Olympic junior varsity has given Independence fits before. That’s nothing new. If you’re asking if I think Independence’s dominance continues, I’d say until Tom Knotts leaves there they’ll always be among the top, for sure, but I think Independence will have some company – Butler’s really young and loaded with talent. And, unlike past years, these Bulldogs know what it’s like to beat Independence. But they still haven’t done it with Knotts on the sideline.
Q. What's up with Chad Johnson, and why is ACC football so bad?
If Chad Ocho Cinco wants that to be his name, well, so be it. Remember the former Lloyd Free? He became World B. Free in hoops. To each his own. Chad is entertaining and as long as he plays and practices hard and doesn’t cheat his teammates, it’s fine with me (him asking for more money or to be traded doesn’t diminish him in my opinion). The ACC did look bad last week, especially UNC. You don’t struggle with a former Division I-AA team at home. That won’t help top recruits go to Chapel Hill.
Q. Langston, East Mecklenburg is a hot team. But don't forget about us at Mallard Creek. We're also hot.
Yes, Mallard Creek is off to a 2-0 start. Keep reading the paper. You might get a surprise soon.
Q. Langston, why don't you give Independence's players any credit, as for players to watch?
I think we have talked a lot about Independence this season and in the summer. The Patriots' story has been told and we’ve got plenty of time to keep telling it. I think they’re the best team in the state, again, and I expect them to play deep into the postseason. Again.
Q. When the new Mint Hill school opens in 2010, Butler and Independence will lose 50 percent of their kids and Dr. Gorman watching districts this week like a hawk. North Meck will get hit again when the new high school in Cornelius opens as well in 2010, so its a lose-lose.
That’s the flip side of opening new schools, at least as far as sports. But many of these schools need relief from overcrowding and after a few years, the sports teams come back. It’ll happen at North. It’ll happen at Butler and Independence, too.
Q. Will you please take notice of West Charlotte's Travis Crosby? He will be a star at strong safety.
Q. Langston, I have been watching your previews and I haven't seen anything about Statesville High.
Promise I’ll keep an eye out on them. Sounds as if they’re doing good things.
Q. Since 2004, Butler has had more talent than Independence, and guess what, every year they lose to Independence. Last year, coach Newsome had 11 Division I players and good underclassmen and couldn't win any titles outright. What makes anyone with a brain think they will do better with less experience and lesser talent this year?
I think Tom Knotts has gotten much respect from everyone here. Newsome is doing a good job, too. What Knotts has done, which I’ve chronicled a gazillion times, is nothing short of amazing.
Q. Langston, I play football for Butler. We have a better team than last year, and it will take us a couple games to become a great team. I know we have the team to win a championship this year and we will do it.
Thanks for writing.
Q. As an observation, only the Observer uses town names in front of some schools but not others. What's up with Indian Trail Sun Valley? Is there another Sun Valley? Unionville Piedmont. Is there another Piedmont? Concord Robinson? Even using Charlotte Catholic is unneeded. How about just Catholic?
Charlotte is a very transient place and most people, trust me, do not know where these schools are. Adding the town name in front was a suggestion by David Scott, who helped originate the Sweet 16 24 years ago. I think it was a good call, though I was initially against it. You are a high school fan, you know where the schools are. Many casual fans do not.
Q. Who is the best team right now does not matter. It's who the best team is at the end of the year. Hoggard beat New Bern twice early in the regular season, but when they played New Bern in the playoffs when they had to play in the big boys' playoff, they got beat two years in a row.
A. I hear you.
Q. I hate that Independence isn't playing in Florida this week. As a relative of a player, I know they were really looking forward to the trip? Did CMS jump the gun here?
That’s a tough call. I’m not sure. As a parent, I wouldn't want my child driving a bus down to Florida with a hurricane anywhere near. No one really knows what Hanna is going to do. It could go right and hit the S.C. coast, or go left and slam into Florida. Right now, most folks think it’ll go right, but why take the chance on a guess? And it’s not as easy to play a N.C. vs. Fla game on a Monday when things will be clear, weather-wise.
Q. CMS stopped the game knowing what happened last September when Independence lost at Cincinnati Elder (Ohio) to end its 109-game winning streak.
CMS didn’t cancel a game because it is worried that Independence might lose. That’s just not it. This is about safety. I agree Independence losing last year hurt N.C. football, but N.C. football doesn’t enjoy a great rep nationwide – or even regionally – anyway. Independence helped put this state on the map a little, though, and at least the state’s better teams can get into some national ranking discussions a little more easily now.
Q. Hindsight is 20/20, but the stupidity of paying to travel 500 miles and lose to a small school was overwhelming to NCHSAA. Had Elder come to North Carolina, Independence may still have an unbeaten at 124 games plus eight state titles on their way to the 151-win record of Concord (Calif.) DeLasalle snapped in 2004 traveling to Seattle Wash in early Sept 2004.
A. Who really knows?
Q. In the article today, Knotts compared Madison County to Shelby. If he wants to play a team of that caliber, why the heck does he have to go all the way to Florida? He has a team right down the road in the Golden Lions. Why won't he schedule Shelby?
I wouldn’t say Knotts is afraid of playing anyone. I think he wanted to get a trip for his team, to play a nationally ranked program and to try to get back in the national rankings. I don’t see playing Shelby doing that for him.