Catawba Ridge quarterback Jadyn Davis, right, rolls out of the pocket with Henry Bowen looking to go with him out of the backfield.

A team deep with future Division I players, the Catawba Ridge Copperheads exceeded expectation last year. This year they are out to prove last season wasn’t a fluke.

Last year, despite the coronavirus, the Copperheads managed to make it through most of a full season without much of an issue. Finishing at 7-2 and making it to the 4A Upper State title game, Catawba Ridge took a lot of teams by surprise.

This year their talent pool won’t be a surprise, so teams should be ready. Catawba Ridge opens the season ranked fourth in the 4A pre-season media poll. Head coach Zac Lendyak said he feels good about where they stand at this point of the season with the opening kickoff just days away.

“Install wise we are way ahead of where we have been,” Lendyak said. “Last year with COVID, we didn’t get a full summer. The year before was pretty basic. We are pleased with where we are at.”

Catawba Ridge has eight starters coming back on both sides of the ball. That means trouble for most of their opponents. Expectations are high for this year’s team after making it to the Upper State championship last season in just its second year of existence.

“We have to go out there and prove it again this year, that we can do what we did last year,” Lendyak said.

Offensively, the Copperheads are loaded with weapons and Lendyak said it may take some time for them to get all pistons firing at the same time. Sophomore quarterback Jadyn Davis is back to lead the offense and has been racking up Division I looks over the summer visiting places like Penn State, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and Ohio State. Davis is the number one ranked recruit in the country for the class of 2024.

Davis missed part of last year after getting injured. If he can stay healthy this season, look for the Copperheads to make another run in the playoffs. Lendyak said it might take a while for the team’s offense to get up to full speed.

“The offense is a little behind, but our defense is really, really strong so we are going to rely on them to kind of keep us in games,” Lendyak said. “Offense is so fine-tuned; you have to have the right guy in the right place at the right time. It will be a week or two before we are clicking.  You can only see so many live bullets in the summer.”

Davis will have plenty of weapons to choose from starting with two-way player and Marshall University commit Jacobie Henderson. There are also weapons in players like Lane Boutwell, Trevor Testerman on offense to go along with running back Henry Bowen.

As deep as they are offensively, defensively Catawba Ridge may be even better. Henderson and Andre Hodge, who is committed to Wake Forest, will again have key roles in the secondary to go with more up-front players such as Will Lowman, Jarius Frank, Brody Tesimale, as well as lineman like Asa Johnson.

Lendyak and company are taking a smart approach to the COVID-19 issue and are keeping kids separated in the locker room by using every other locker and using the JV locker room as well.

“We are limiting numbers in the locker room,” he said. “Usually, we keep the entire program in one locker room, but we are separating them.  If someone gets it, you don’t have to worry about shutting down their neighbor.”

Catawba Ridge Football                 (all games are at 7:30 p.m.)

Aug. 20                 vs. Fort Mill

Aug. 27                 at Nation Ford

Sept. 3                  vs. Greenwood

Sept. 10                at West Cabarrus

Sept. 17                at South Meck

Sept. 24                vs. Chester (Homecoming)

Oct. 1                    vs. South Pointe

Oct. 8                    at York

Oct. 15                  at Lancaster

Oct. 22                  vs. Indian Land

Oct. 29                  Bye       

Mac Banks:, @fortprep