Middle Creek, which scored 30 or more points in its last eight games in 2012, may have to rely on its defense more this season.
The Mustangs have seen two running backs, four offensive linemen and a quarterback graduate who all have the opportunity to play college football this fall.
Only three starters return from a unit that averaged 37.2 points and scored 60 or more points twice.
The defense has seven starters returning, as well as some newcomers expected to have an effect. The unit is expected to be improved and cut down on the 24.9 points per game it allowed a year ago.
“We expect to play better defense,” said Mustangs coach Mike Castellano. “I think the kids have a much better understanding of what we’re trying to do.”
Castellano has abundant defensive experience. Defensive backs Terrance White and Jacob Pearl were both all-conference picks last year, as were linebackers Warren Messer, a transfer from Cary, and King Kiaku.
Terry Patterson (6-3, 260) returns at one defensive end and Fuquay-Varina transfer Anthony Mitchell (6-3, 215) may take the other. Josh Hunter and Tom Hartshorn are other veterans.
Offensively, there are more questions.
Junior quarterback Brant Grisel got lots of snaps directing an 8-1 junior-varsity squad but has just two incompletions on the varsity level. Runners Yorick Sands, Stuart Fine and Elijah Perry are unproven. Patterson and Hunter may join returning center Rasheed Ferrell in the line and sophomore Connor Baroniuas (6-2, 225) has shown promise. Evan Cofone (6-5, 320) also is back.
The wide-receiver corps is expected to be a strength, with all-conference Curtis Burston (813 yards receiving, 10 TDs) and Jay Schuller (421, 4 TDs), Keon Smith, Quadir Ford, Troy Diebolt, Rasheem Eaton and Deante McDonald.
“On offense, we need to jell,” Castellano said. “We have to learn to be accountable, compete at a high level and at a fast pace.”
Castellano expects special teams to be a strength with punter/kicker Michael Rubino, kicker Chris Hui, White and Isaiah Herring.
But early in the season, with the opener at Garner and then a visit by Fayetteville’ E.E. Smith, the defense may be key.
Castellano believes last year’s experience and another year in the weight room will make a big difference.
The Mustangs have won or shared the conference regular-season title three times in the last four years and are the coaches’ pick as the favorite again this season.