MATTHEWS – Last August on the first night of high school football in the state, Butler High’s football uniforms were neatly tucked away in the player’s lockers. Butler, a perennial powerhouse in football, couldn’t find an opponent that Friday night.
Week one of the 2018 season will be different. A whole lot different.
Not only has Butler found a season-opening opponent but the Bulldogs will face another North Carolina powerhouse when they open the season against Scotland High in the sixth annual Charlotte Kickoff Night on Aug. 18 at Memorial Stadium in Charlotte.
Butler and Scotland (Laurinburg) will open the two-game slate with a 5 p.m. kickoff. Dutch Fork of Irmo, S.C. and Mallard Creek will kick off 30 minutes after the Butler-Scotland game. The pairings were announced Feb. 14 during a media day press conference. Tickets cost $10 and can be purchased at CLTKickoffNight.com. The event is presented by OrthoCarolina.
“Six years and growing,” said James Companion of Scholastic Sports Marketing. “As the Charlotte Kickoff Night event continues to grow in the expectations of area high school fans, so does our own expectation of the quality of match-ups. We’re grateful for the support we’ve received from OrthoCarolina and all of the participating schools as we all continue to provide a positive experience for the youth of our community and in towns across the Carolinas.”
Scotland was 12-2 a year ago after falling 30-22 to Harding in the Class 4A Championship Game and coach Richard Bailey said the Scots are excited about the trip to Charlotte and a date with the Bulldogs.
“We have a hard time finding games,” Bailey said. “These are two great programs and to come to Charlotte and play in this great atmosphere is exciting. We travel pretty good, and we plan to be part of the excitement here. Hopefully, we can put a good product on the field. We look forward to it.”
Butler (8-3) fell in the second round of the Class 4AA playoffs in 2017 and Bulldogs coach Brian Hales said facing the Scots will make the Bulldogs a better football team.
“We are excited to be a part of it and we know it is going to be a big challenge early in the year,” Hales said. “It’s going to be an awesome environment. This is going to give the kids something to focus on during the offseason. Last year, we didn’t have a game week one and at times it was tough selling them to get ready for the season with that hole in week one. Now playing Scotland, the kids are going to be excited about it.”
Despite losing several talented seniors, the Bulldogs return talent on both sides of the football. The offense will be experienced at the skill positions and on the offensive line.
Rising senior Christian Peters returns at quarterback and Quasean Holmes and Jamal Worthy, who are both rising juniors, are expected to log time at running back. Holmes, who also plays linebacker, recently received a scholarship offer from West Virginia. Wide receiver Keyon Lesane, who has an offer from North Carolina State, is also back for his senior season this fall.
In the offensive trenches, rising junior Anthony Carter earned All-Conference honors last season. Rising senior Brenden Manning also brings experience up front.
“Last year, we started two sophomores and a freshman on the offensive line,” Hales said. “Offensively, we feel pretty good where we are at. Keyon Lesane is explosive. We feel real good about the offensive side.”
Defensively, rising seniors and twins Raevon and Traevon Freeman are expected to anchor the defense at defensive end. Rising senior defensive tackle Amaziah Bell and rising senior linebacker Brandon Masone also return.
“It’s going to start with the twins at the ends,” Hales said. “Those guys put pressure on the edges and setting that up. We just have really good kids to work with on the defensive side of the football. We played a lot of young guys last year and it was a great learning experience for them.”
Dutch Fork is coached by former West Charlotte and Independence coach Tom Knotts. Knotts won a state championship at West Charlotte in 1995 and he won six state titles at Independence from 2000 to 2007. Dutch Fork is the two-time defending Class 5A South Carolina state champions.
Knotts, who guided Independence to 109-consecutive wins during one stretch at the school, is 28-1 the last two seasons at Dutch Fork.
“It’s good to be coming home,” Knotts said. “Memorial Stadium is a great place to play a high school football game. Mallard Creek is the new Independence and we look forward to playing them. It should be a great night for high school football.”