No one could blame the Watauga Pioneers for wanting to get the 2019 football season started as soon as possible.
The defending Northwestern 3A/4A Conference champions were selected by the league media as the favorite to capture their second straight title in voting released this week.
That bit of good news comes on the heels of the return of star running back Bryce Satterfield, who rejoined the team for his senior season. Satterfield was feared lost to the Pioneers after his father, former Appalachian State coach Scott Satterfield, was named the new head coach at Louisville. But Bryce Satterfield moved back to Boone and has enrolled at Watauga, according to reports from the Watauga Democrat.
Meanwhile, the McDowell Titans were picked to finish last in the league. The Titans are coming off a 4-8 season that saw them go 2-5 in NWC play, tied with South Caldwell for fifth place.
McDowell lost its leading passer, rusher, receiver and tackler, as well as its head coach in the offseason. The Titans and new head coach Darrell Brewer open the season August 23 at R-S Central.
Watauga went 7-0 in the conference and 13-1 overall last season, and didn’t lose a game until the third round of the State 3AA Playoffs. The Pioneers garnered half the first-place votes from the 16 media members who voted in the poll. Freedom was picked to finish second and received five first-place votes. Alexander Central was picked third and got three nods for first place.
Hickory, St. Stephens, South Caldwell and the Titans rounded out the list.
Freedom (6-1, 9-3) placed second a year ago, while Alexander Central (5-2, 9-3) was third in the final standings.
The media representatives also voted for Freedom quarterback Jayden Birchfield as preseason Player of the Year. Birchfield received eight votes to beat out Watauga quarterback Anderson Castle (5), Satterfield (2) and Hickory tailback Cody Young (1).
Birchfield was 180-for-272 passing for 2,821 yards and 23 touchdowns with seven interceptions and also rushed for 516 yards last year. Castle, who saw his playing time limited after an early season injury, made a strong comeback and finished 25-of-47 passing for 549 yards and nine TDs with three picks. He also ran for 741 yards and 11 more scores. Satterfield rushed for 1,661 yards and 23 touchdowns on 215 carries.
This is the first year for the NWC media poll since realignment took effect in 2017. Alexander Central sports information director Jonathan Watts conducted the poll and tallied the results.
Media members voting included: Paul Schenkel (Morganton News Herald), Justin Epley (Morganton News Herald), Marty Queen (McDowell News), Dan Crawley (McDowell News), Van McKinney (WBRM Radio), Jeff Link (Foothills Radio), David Jones (Foothills Radio), Steve Behr (Watauga Democrat), Mike Kelly (WATA Radio), David Rogers (Blowing Rock News), Donny Pennell (The Taylorsville Times), Rick Gilbert (WACB Radio), Chris Hobbs (Hobbs Daily Report), Jason Savage (WHKY Radio), Davis Fisher (Lenoir News-Topic) and Josh McKinney (Hickory Daily Record).
2019 Northwestern 3A/4A Football
Media Preseason Poll
Watauga (8) 102
Freedom (5) 96
Alexander Central (3) 89
St. Stephens 39
South Caldwell 36
First-place votes in parentheses
Preseason Player of the Year voting
Jayden Birchfield (Freedom) 8, Anderson Castle (Watauga) 5, Bryce Satterfield (Watauga) 2, Cody Young (Hickory) 1