The start of the 2017 high school football season is still roughly four months from its inception, but there is a lot going on at McDowell High School currently to get Titan Nation excited about the pigskin far in advance.
McDowell has released its 2017 football schedule and with it comes a huge reunion for the Titans as they will make their debut in the Northwestern 3A/4A Conference in the fall.
This split-classification league, created during last year’s realignment cycle, will include one other 4A member in South Caldwell, as well as a total of six 3A programs, starting with longtime rival Freedom, old Northwestern 4A partners Hickory, Alexander Central and Watauga, and neighboring programs St Stephens and West Caldwell.
The Titans will return to the Northwestern Conference after spending the past eight years as members of the Mountain Athletic 4A/3A Conference, a league in which McDowell was the only member outside Buncombe County.
The change of scenery, in the opinion of a lot of people close to the program, including second-year head football coach Andy Morgan, will be beneficial.
“We have enjoyed our time being with the Asheville schools but we’re excited to be coming back and playing against some of our natural rivals,” said Morgan. “I know the fans are excited and the players are as well, playing against some new teams. There are some good coaches in this league. It will be competitive. We’re looking forward to getting things started and see how far we have come.”
Almost certainly the most interesting series that will be rejuvenated as a result of the new league is the one with Freedom. The two neighboring programs have not faced off on the gridiron since 2010, the last season that McDowell was in the former Northwestern 4A.
Both schools were able to keep their storied basketball rivalry intact over the past eight seasons, but several factors kept the football series from continuing.
“We’re definitely looking forward to getting back with Freedom,” said Morgan. “It’s been a long time since we have played a game that counted. It’s one that we have marked.”
Not only will the league schedule be solid in 2017, but the Titans will continue to play their usual non-conference partners, including the season opener Friday, Aug. 18 at R-S Central. McDowell’s home opener will be in Week 2 (Aug. 25) against Avery. The Titans will travel to Patton on Week 3 (Sept. 1) before a Week 4 encounter with 1A West Regional finalist Mitchell finishes out the non-conference slate.
McDowell’s bye week will fall on the fifth week of the football calendar, and then league play begins on Sept. 22 at home against Hickory.
The Titans will host the Red Tornadoes, South Caldwell (Oct. 6), West Caldwell (Oct. 27) and Freedom (Nov. 3), while making road trips to St. Stephens (Sept. 29), Alexander Central (Oct. 13) and Watauga (Oct. 20).
Not only will McDowell High’s football schedule feature a new look, but Titan Stadium is getting a major sprucing up as Phase II of the Athletic Facilities Improvement plan is underway on campus and is scheduled to be completed by the summer.
The second phase of the stadium project involves the installation of artificial turf to the football field along with a rubberized track, giving McDowell a major uplift to a facility that has been standing in close to its original state since Titan Stadium was built back in the 1970s.
Crews have been on campus all week long with students away for spring break, working aggressively hauling away tons of dirt from the original field in order to flatten the surface to prepare it for installation of the turf and track.
This portion of the project, along with Phase I, completed back in 2016, will complete renovations to the field, track and seating areas in the stadium. Once those projects are finished, the current press box and field house will remain as the only original structures left in the stadium.
“This is a huge project,” said Morgan. “The kids here at school deserve it and the community deserves it. Once done, this will be one of the nicest facilities around anywhere, not just in the mountains or west of Charlotte, but anywhere.”
“To have the turf and being able to play on it even in rainy weather and to have that track which I think is valuable to all sports here, we’re really looking forward to having it. It will give the kids something to be extremely proud of.”
Current projections are for Phase II to be complete prior to Aug. 1. If everything goes as scheduled, McDowell’s football team will have the new field ready at its disposal for the opening of the football season.
Morgan stated that the team will host a preseason, multi-team scrimmage as the first event held on the new turf.
McDowell Titans football 2017
Aug. 18 @R-S Central
Aug. 25 Avery
Sept. 1 @Patton
Sept. 8 Mitchell
Sept. 22 Hickory*
Sept. 29 @St. Stephens*
Oct. 6 South Caldwell*
Oct. 13 @Alexander Central*
Oct. 20 @Watauga*
Oct. 27 West Caldwell*
Nov. 3 Freedom*
*-Northwestern 4A/3A Conference game
All games begin at 7:30