Southern Piedmont 1A football preview: Mountain Island Charter, Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy co-favorites in year with unbalanced schedule

By Richard Walker
A year ago, Bessemer City, Mountain Island Charter and Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy were tri-champions in the Southern Piedmont 1A Conference football race.

Little has changed heading into this season based on a preseason coaches’ poll that makes Mountain Island Charter and Thomas Jefferson co-favorites for the nine-team league that will be playing an unbalanced schedule due to seven games being the maximum number of contests any team play in this unconventional season.

That should put plenty of focus and attention on the March 12 Thomas Jefferson at Mountain Island Charter contest since their head-to-head meeting could very well be for the league championship.

Close behind Mountain Island Charter and Thomas Jefferson in the preseason poll are Community School Davidson, Union Academy and Bessemer City. Rounding out the preseason picks are Pine Lake Prep, Highland Tech, Christ the King and Cherryville.

Here is team information for the teams from Gaston County in that league for the 2021 winter/spring season:

Bessemer City
Coach: Larry Boone (17th year, 90-105)
Coaching staff: Eric Nichols, Keith Fox, Billy Beaty, Jeff Hicks, Jerrod Holmes, Tyler Bess
Returning starters: 8
Starters lost: 8
2019 record: 7-5
Top returning players: TE/LB Justice Cooper, RB/LB Tyler Chamber, OL/DL Addison Dellinger, QB Jameer Holmes, RB/DB C.J. Williams, OL/DL
Sammy Jones
Top newcomers: OL/DL Jerry Rhodes, OL/DL Wesley Moore
Season outlook: Boone, the Yellow Jackets’ all-time winningest football coach, has one of his youngest teams ever. The quicker Bessemer City gains experience, the better chance it’ll have to pursue a school record; Last year’s fourth straight winning season tied it with the four straight winning seasons from 1950 to 1953.
All-time record: 328-545-35 (since 1925)
Last 5 years: 39-24
Feb. 26 at Pine Lake Prep
March 5 Union Academy
March 12 at St. Stephens
March 19 Highland Tech
March 26 Christ the King
April 1 at Thomas Jefferson
April 9 at Cherryville

Coach: Tim Pruitt (6th year, 18-41)
Coaching staff: Defensive coordinator/ILB Scott Jenkins, OLB Ben Pierce, DL Dell Garren, DL Josh Garren, DB Houston Gilmore, OL Tim Moss, RB Chapel Moss, WR/JV coach Jason Thomas
Returning starters: 11
Starters lost: 12
2019 record: 3-8
Top returning players: Slot/SS Christian Hahn, C Dawson Long, QB Austin Thomspon, FB Gage Price, QB/LB Kadin Beaver, HB/OLB Cooper Sloan, WR/SS Jackson Owens, OG/DE Mitchell Lackey
Top newcomers: FB/ILB Ford Golden, OT/DE Jack Dellinger
Season outlook: Cherryville will look to build on the momentum it had before last season, when the 2018 team went 7-5 overall for the school’s best record since 1977 (7-3 record). Pruitt calls the team a coachable group with a talented freshman class that hopes to play a JV schedule.
All-time record: 354-542-28 (since 1926)
Last 5 years: 18-40
Feb. 25 Chase
March 5 Pine Lake Prep
March 12 at Highland Tech
March 19 Community School of Davidson
March 26 at Thomas Jefferson
March 31 at Christ the King
April 9 Bessemer City

Highland Tech
Coach: Pedro Truesdale (1st year)
Coaching staff: Otis Powell, Sam Moore, Shamon Moore, Stacy Rubin, Larry Freeman, Carl Beam, Eddie Frye
Returning starters: 14
Starters lost: 4
2019 record: 2-9
Top returning players: Athlete Caleb Foster, QB Vinson Whitted, C Partick Hullett, TE Trent Dockery, T Sawyer Greene, Athlete Nehemiah Smith, LB Logan Jones, LB Kevin Granson
Top newcomers: DB Tyier Camp, DE Gavin Jenkins, WR Eli Whitted, G Kyle Trantham
Season outlook: Truesdale comes in with 23 years coaching experience in Mecklenburg County (West Meck, Olympic, Vance and Garinger) and inherits 14 starters from a Rams’ team that last year recorded a conference victory in a second straight season for the first time.
All-time record: 34-155 (since 2002)
Last 5 years: 9-45
Feb. 26 BYE
March 5 at Thomas Jefferson
March 12 Cherryville
March 19 at Bessemer City
March 26 at Community School of Davidson
April 2 Union Academy
April 9 at Christ the King

Mountain Island Charter
Coach: Robert Washington (6th year, 43-18)
Coaching staff: Tony Cuthbertson, Ronnie Hunter, Jerry Baker, Jack Gardner, Josh Mills
Returning starters: 18
Starters lost: 22
2019 record: 11-3
Top returning players: Athlete Gabe Stephens, Athlete Jadon Robinson, DB Christian Hunter, OL/DL Myles Perry, OL/DL Brady Johnson, K Todd Pledger, LB Nick Burrows, RB/WR Trae Nickelson, RB Caleb Patton, P Jacob Laughlin, LB/LS Dylan McKay, Athlete Cole Hart, TE/DE Tanner Lesson, DL/LB Leonard Hadley
Top newcomers: WR Jaden Lockhart, OL/DL Justin Fain, 6’5 290, OL/DL Brock Haynes, Athlete Armonte Ferguson, Athlete KeAndre Walker, QB Dylan Bisson, Athlete Nyzir Steward, WR Najee Steward, Athlete Trevin Moyer
Season outlook: Washington says the Raptors have the biggest lineman they’ve ever had and considers the team fast and deep this season, which comes after a school-best 11-3 record of a year ago.
All-time record: 43-21 (since 2015)
Last 5 years: 43-21
Feb. 26 at East Lincoln
March 5 Christ the King
March 12 Thomas Jefferson
March 19 R-S Central
March 26 at Pine Lake Prep
April 2 Community School of Davidson
April 9 at Union Academy