By CHRIS HOBBS
MAIDEN BLUE DEVILS
Conference: South Fork 2A.
Head coach: Will Byrne (19-5, 2 years; 19-5 at Maiden, 2 years).
Last season’s records: 11-1 overall; 7-0 South Fork 2A, champion.
Last season’s results: at Foard, W 37-14; E. Burke, W 50-6; at Bunker Hill, W 41-15; St. Stephens, W 28-7; BANDYS, W 35-21; at W. LINCOLN, W 27-13; LAKE NORMAN CHARTER, W 64-14; at N. LINCOLN, W 30-6; E. LINCOLN, W 44-43, 2 OTs; NEWTON-CONOVER, W 30-27; at LINCOLNTON, W 28-21; Playoffs: Foard, L 0-16.
SCHOOL FOOTBALL HISTORY
Last season in state playoffs: 2017, 2AA.
Last state playoff victory: 2015, d. N. Surry 48-15, first round.
All-time state playoff bids: 42.
Conference titles (or shares) since 1980, last: 14, 2017 South Fork 2A.
BY THE NUMBERS
Returning starters: 14.
Returning lettermen: 16.
Returning starters: 7.
Leading returning rusher: Lee Turner, 6-10, 190, Sr. (96-449, 4 TDs).
Leading returning passer: Bain Sipe, 5-9, 170, Jr. (3-4-0, 48, no TDs).
Leading returning receiver: Caleb McDaniel, 5-9, 165, Sr. (56-665, 9 TDs).
Other key returnees: Gannon Bishop, 6-0, 245, OL, Sr.; Dylan Abernathy, 6-0, 65, WR, Jr.; Braxton Wright, 6-0, 245, OL, Sr.; Montrell Stinson, 6-3, 200, WR, Sr.; Hayden Williams, 5-7, 245, OL, Sr.; Casey Ly, 5-4, 145, K, Sr.; Keanu Boulany, 5-10, 160, K, Sr.
Top newcomers: Daniel Harris, 6-2, 230, OL, Soph.; Presley Poovey, 6-0, 245, OL, Jr.; Jesse Hewitt, 5-11, 230, OL, Jr.; Amarion Craig, 5-10, 170, RB, Soph.; D.J. Murph, 5-9, 165, WR, Soph..
Returning starters: 7.
Players to watch: Caleb McDaniel, 5-9, 165, DB, Sr.; Chris Morgan, 6-0, 230, ILB, Jr.; Gannon Bishop, 6-0, 245, DE, Sr.; Dylan Abernathy, 6-0, 165, Jr., Safety; Lee Turner, 6-0, 190, DE, Sr.; Montrell Stinson, 6-3 200, Safet, Sr.; Jarrett Isaac, 5-10, 190, OLB, Sr.; Johnny Carden, 5-10, 185, ILB, Sr.; Justin Wilson, 6-2, 175, Safety, Sr.; Carson Hansley, 6-2, 185, OLB, Jr; Zach Stewart, 5-9, 165, DB, Jr.; AZ Moore, 6-0, 185, ILB, Soph.
There are no years when the conversation starts about which team in the Greater Hickory area warrants attention, at least not in the five decades I’ve been around prep football, that does not basically start with the Blue Devils.
Maiden’s tradition speaks for itself – 42 state playoff berths, 14 won or shared conference titles since 1980, for example – and something is added to the storied history of The Biggest Little Football Town In The World every season.
So what to expect for 2018, after an unbeaten regular season that ended with a punch in the nose in the first round of the state playoffs (Fred T. Foard 16, Maiden 0 at Maiden)?
Former Blue Devils wide receiver Will Byrne is back for his third season and already looking for his 20th win at his alma mater.
There are 14 returning starters – seven on each side of the ball – and perhaps the biggest question is how (and if) the Blue Devils have to become a team that has fewer big yardage guys at one position and get, say, 1,500 yards of offense from three players now than all that production from one.
Caleb Farley was a dynamic QB, and then Keygan Mayfield came in as a senior quarterback and delivered nearly 2,500 yards of total offense with 13 rushing TDs and 18 passing TDs.
Returning WR Caleb McDaniel is expected to star in whatever role he plays this season and, as also been tradition, the Blue Devils will likely develop other threats.
If Maiden does one thing as consistently well as any football program in the state, it’s have players grow into roles, i.e. suddenly a player like Lee Turner (96-449, 6 TDs a year ago) shows up as a 1,000-yard rusher the next year.
In a response to HobbsDailyReport.com about this season, Byrne said he expects defense, his offensive line and having some experience at the skill positions are positives for Maiden.
“We’re going to be young in spots,” Byrne said.
Overall, Byrne is confident and excited.
“We could be better than we were in 2017 on both sides of the ball,” he said. “Staying healthy is key.”
A team picture online counted 27 players on the varsity, and another factor is probably going to be just how the flow of the season goes.
The Blue Devils open the season in Thomas E. Brown Stadium against Foard (they had beaten the Tigers in last year’s season opener at Maiden) and they’ve probably grown tired of hearing about the way the 2017 season ended.
So going back to that long tradition to help draw a conclusion about motivation for this year: Winning 11 games in a season is sweet… but if none of them were in the postseason the year ain’t as sweet as it should have been.
Maiden has not won a state playoff game since 2015 and has not won two in a state playoff bracket since 2011.