LAURINBURG — High school teams across North Carolina open the regular season in two weeks, and the Southeastern Conference features no shortage of quality players set to hit the gridiron.
In the first of this two-part series examining the top talent in the SEC, the best offensives players in the conference are ranked based on past production and projected future impact. Scotland, Richmond, Pinecrest, Lumberton, Hoke and Purnell Swett all feature talented players — these rankings are sure to fluctuate and feature new faces by season’s end.
1. Senior QB Christian Ledbetter (Pinecrest) — The Patriots’ signal-caller threw for 1,210 yards and 15 touchdowns with just one interception last season. He also totaled 1,104 yards on 176 carries and tacked on 11 more scores on the ground. Ledbetter’s best passing performance came in a 41-23 victory against Lumberton on Oct. 10 — He completed 11 of 18 passes for 263 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for 69 yards on 19 carries.
2. Senior QB Dashaun Ferguson (Scotland) — The dual-threat quarterback did an admirable job filling in for injured star Jaylend Ratliffe last season, passing for 1,160 yards and 12 touchdowns with just four interceptions. He rushed for more than 100 yards in two games, and finished the year with 128 carries for 771 yards and 10 touchdowns. Ferguson was electric in a 49-21 victory over New Hanover on Sept. 19, completing 7 of 11 passes for 118 yards and two touchdowns and rushing 10 times for 144 yards and two more scores.
3. Junior QB Leon Zeigler (Richmond) — Zeigler is a bit of an unknown commodity, having played limited reps last season while sitting second on the depth chart behind Luke Hoggard. He is set to take the reins of the offense under new coach Mike Castellano, and is sure to put up big numbers in the Raiders’ new pass-happy offense. Zeigler started in Richmond’s 53-7 win over Fuquay-Varina on Nov. 14 in the first round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4AA playoffs last year in place of an injured Hoggard and recorded three total touchdowns.
1. Sophomore RB Zamir White (Scotland) — The fast but physical freshman phenom rushed for 1,231 yards and 18 touchdowns on 155 carries, splitting reps with the now-graduated Quadrin Williams. White rushed for more than 100 yards in five games last year, and posted a season-high 184 yards on 22 carries in Scotland’s 35-21 victory over D.H. Conley on Nov. 14 in the first round of the NCHSAA 4A playoffs. “Zeus” was recently named the No. 2 2018 recruit nationally by 247sports.com, and holds scholarship offers from schools like Ohio State, Georgia and Florida State.
2. Senior RB Quientel Goodwin (Richmond) — Goodwin was a star in his own right last season, rushing for 1,167 yards and 13 touchdowns while sharing carries with senior Miles Grant, who put up 1,148 yards and 25 scores. Goodwin rushed for 100 yards or more six times, and had a season-high 154 yards on eight carries in a 75-35 victory over Lumberton on Oct. 24.
3. Senior RB Jacob Rushing (Hoke) — This all-SEC performer was a load to tackle, rushing for 1,109 yards and 11 touchdowns. He accounted for more than 60 percent of the Bucks’ rushing offense and ran for 100 yards or more five times. Rushing racked up a season-high 223 yards and three touchdowns on 27 carries in a 48-42 win over Lumberton Oct. 17.
Wide receivers/Tight ends
1. Senior WR Brandon Smith (Hoke) — Smith, an all-SEC receiver last season, hauled in 36 receptions for 561 yards and three touchdowns and was the Bucks’ only legit threat on the outside, accounting for 56 percent of the receiving yardage by the team last season. Smith recorded a season-high 167 yards and two touchdowns in Hoke’s victory over Lumberton.
2. Senior WR Randy Leak (Scotland) — Leak was an honorable mention all-SEC pick last year after recording 21 receptions for 451 yards and five touchdowns. He also had a knack for reeling in the long ball with a 21.5 yards-per-catch average. Leak caught a season-high four catches for 89 yards and one touchdown in Scotland’s 34-13 win over Richmond Nov. 7.
3. Senior WR Willie Douglas (Scotland) — The lanky receiver also made the all-SEC honorable mention list after catching 24 passes for 442 yards and five touchdowns. Douglas reeled in a season-high seven receptions for 106 yards and a score in a 29-22 victory over Pinecrest Oct. 17.
1. Senior guard Sean Pollard (Pinecrest) — Pollard is one of the best college prospects in the region, having committed to Clemson University in December, and he earned an invite to Nike’s The Opening camp held this summer in Oregon. The 6-foot-5, 301-pounder helped Pinecrest total 3,180 rushing yards and 34 touchdowns last season.
2. Senior tackle Pete Townsend (Lumberton) — Townsend paved the way for SEC Offensive Player of the Year Josh Sheridan, who recorded 1,603 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2014. Townsend notched 33 pancake blocks and was offered a scholarship to attend Charleston Southern in South Carolina this offseason.
3. Senior guard Timon McMillan (Scotland) — The 6-1, 305-pound guard was a roadblock for defensive linemen, helping two Scotland rushers surpass 1,000 yards in last year. McMillan recorded 61 pancake blocks and rarely missed his assignments.
Logan Martinez can be reached at 910-506-3170. Follow him on Twitter @L_Martinez13.