By CHRIS HOBBS
A year after winning all seven of its league games, Watauga High is favored to win the Northwestern 3A-4A varsity football championship this season.
That’s based on a preseason poll of media that covers the conference, which drops from eight teams to seven after West Caldwell’s request to drop a classification because of its declining enrollment was approved by the North Carolina High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA).
West Caldwell moved to the Northwestern Foothills 2A.
Alexander Central sports information director Jonathan Watts coordinated a vote among 16 media members that included Chris Hobbs of HobbsDailyReport.com, and Watauga got half of the first-place votes and 102 points to sit atop the predicted order of finish for 2019.
Freedom got five first-place votes and had 96 points and Alexander Central got three first-place votes and had 89 points.
Hickory was picked to finish fourth, followed by St. Stephens, South Caldwell and McDowell.
The Pioneers went 7-0 in the league and 13-1 overall last season, finishing a game up on Freedom (9-3, 6-1) and two in front of Alexander Central (9-3, 5-2).
The media selected Freedom quarterback Jayden Birchfield as the conference’s preseason Player of the Year, who got eight votes. The rest of the votes went to Watauga quarterback Anderson Castle (five), Watauga running back Bryce Satterfield (two) and Hickory running back Cody Young (one).
Birchfield is the conference’s top returning passer and Young led the league last season in rushing yards per game (142.8 in eight games) with Satterfield next at 127.8 (in 10 games).
Satterfield was not originally expected to be in the Watauga lineup, having moved to Louisville after his dad, Scott, left the head-coaching job at Appalachian State to become head coach at Louisville.
Satterfield and his mom, Beth, are back in Watauga County and Satterfield will play his senior season for the Pioneers.
Watts said he wasn’t sure how many of the voters were fully aware of Satterfield’s status when they voted.
PRESEASON MEDIA FOOTBALL POLL
Watauga 102 (8 first-place votes)
Freedom 96 (5 first-place votes)
Alexander Central 89 (3 first-place votes)
St. Stephens 39
S. Caldwell 36
Player of the year voting: Jayden Birchfield, QB, Freedom, 8; Anderson Castle, QB, Watauga, 5; Bryce Satterfield, RB, Watauga 2; Cody Young, RB, Hickory 1.
Voters: Paul Schenkel, Morganton News Herald; Justin Epley, Morganton News Herald; Marty Queen, McDowell News; Dan Crawley, McDowell News; Van McKinney, McDowell radio; Van McKinney, McDowell radio; Jeff Link KICKS 103.3; David Johnson KICKS 103.3; Steve Behr, Watauga Democrat; Mike Kelly, WATA; David Rogers, Blowing Rock News; Donny Pennell, Taylorsville Times; Rick Gilbert, WACB; Chris Hobbs, HobbsDailyReport.com; Jason Savage, WHKY; Davis Fisher, Lenoir News-Topic; Josh McKinney, Hickory Daily Record.