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Wake Forest's quest to defend state title begins

Wake Forest High School vs Page High School - 4AA NCHSAA State F

Aug, 1 2017, 1:26 AM

Wake Forest High School's football team is used to entering the season with a target on its back.

The most successful team in Wake County over the last decade, the target on Wake Forest is bigger than ever this season. In December, the Cougars became the first Wake County school since 1987 to win a football state championship.

"Teams are going to be coming for us because who wouldn't want to beat the No. 1 team? Who wouldn't want to have that as their motive? For every team the target is going to be bigger," said senior running back Devon Lawrence.

Wake Forest is aware of the other teams, but the Cougars aren't focused on them.

"We're trying to stay focused like we have in past seasons – come in, new season, new group of guys, taking it one week at a time," said head coach Reggie Lucas. "The kids have had a great summer, they've been working hard, and we're just looking forward to the first week playing against Millbrook."

The Cougars have spent the off season getting their returners and newcomers ready for a new season. During the 7-on-7 season, Wake Forest's team won the Carolina Panthers 7-on-7 and the Powerade 7-on-7 championships.

Wake Forest will have a solid foundation to build on too. A total of 17 starters from last year's state championship squad – seven on defense and ten on offense – return this season. Experience and senior leadership are expected to be strengths for the Cougars.

"The coaching staff is pushing these guys the same way we pushed the other guys, and the seniors this year, they want to go out on top as well," Lucas said.

The players agree.

"Our seniors, our veterans, they're going to be leaders on our team and take us back," Javon Terry, a senior defensive back and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill recruit, said.

A lot of familiar names will be back. Quarterback Chris James, a three-year starter, has a career record of 28-1. Lawrence will be back in the backfield with offers from Clemson, LSU, Tennessee, UCLA and UNC, among others. He'll be joined by fellow senior Marquis Dunn who holds an offer from Massachusetts. Other players like Lex Goodwin (WR), John Jiles (WR/DB), Drew Homschek (DB) and Josh King (T) also hold college offers.

Even with so much talent back this fall, Wake Forest knows repeating as state champions is no small task.

"They know it's going to be tough, but they're motivated," said Lucas. "These guys come out here with goals in mind, we have goals each year, and these guys are going to come out and try to obtain those goals. We have some good players coming back, we've got to fill some big shoes, but I think overall we know what we have to do."

Defense is always a strength for the Cougars. Last season, Wake Forest's defense gave up an average of 6.7 points per game and pitched a shutout in the state championship game. But some of those key defensive players are now gone, like Darius Hodge and Xach Gill.

"We lost some really good defensive players, so I'm really anxious to get to the scrimmage part when we go against other teams just to see how the new guys are going to play," said Lucas.

The players are confident in their teammates though.

"I think most of our strengths on defense are in our defensive backs and our seniors," Terry said. "If our linebackers and defensive line get right, we're going to get back to it."

Lawrence said as long as the players are all committed, the Cougars will have a shot at another run this fall.

"We have the talent. We have the discipline. We just have to make sure our seniors are leaders and everyone is committed," he said.

Wake Forest officially started the football season on Monday morning, players and coaches alike seemed pleased with where the team was already.

"The first day was very fun. There was a whole lot of energy out here, everybody jumping around, everybody ready to play," said Lawrence. "This was the best first practice that I've ever been to in my four years here."

Wake Forest has a tough non-conference schedule. The Cougars will open the season on Aug. 18 with a home game against Millbrook. Wake Forest's non-conference schedule also includes games at Richmond County, Leesville Road and Southern Nash, as well as home games with Middle Creek and Franklinton.

Follow Nick Stevens on Twitter @NickStevensHSOT



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