By Nathan Cochrane

As the days get longer and hotter, many think of beach vacations, cool mountain getaways or endless days by the pool trying to beat the heat. All of these are great things.

For a lot of others, it means something else — fall football is right around the corner.

2021 has brought a different excitement for football fans. Not only do we get fall football, but we also had an awesome spring football season.

We watched as the Lee County Yellow Jackets continued their dominance of the Tri-County 6, where they went undefeated in the regular season. That ended with an early playoff loss to Cleveland High School, who went on to the NCHSAA 3AA state championship.

We also got to watch Southern Lee as they started to rebuild their program from the ground up. The program under first year Head Coach Mike McClure came away with a 2-5 regular season, in a year many guessed would look more like 0-7.

This fall will also bring new excitement with the formation of the Sandhills 3A/4A Athletic Conference. This conference will bring a new level of competition neither local programs are accustomed to until the playoffs. The conference boasts teams like Richmond County, Pinecrest, and Hoke County in the 4A division, along with Lee County, Southern Lee, Union Pines, and Scotland County in the 3A.

There’s plenty of uncertainty surrounding the conference and the new alignment, but we know for sure we’re going to get some amazing football.

I had the pleasure of talking with Coach Steve Burdeau of the Yellow Jackets in late July, and he told me the Yellow Jackets have the same mission they’ve had since Burdeau arrived three years ago — to win a state championship. Lee County will be led by a dynamic group of seniors this year, including Will Patterson at QB1, Tyreik McKendall on both offense and defense, T.J. Johnson at running back and linebacker, and the towering Landon Johnson at defensive end.

Burdeau told me he’s more than excited to coach against guys with whom he has coached previously, and that he’s excited about the higher level of play, week in and week out. Lee County has been busy getting ready for the change this off season, attending multiple 7v7s around the state, including at Cleveland High School — the same team which ended the Yellow Jackets’ run this spring.

“We would love to see a packed house week in and week out this season on our hopeful road to a State Championship,” Burdeau told me.

I also got to meet with Southern Lee Head Mike McClure, who told me he’s excited about the team’s direction. He said the Cavaliers’ goal for the fall is to continue improving every day and to build on the foundation laid in the spring.

All that said, the off season held some major positive changes for the Cavaliers — including the relocation of the team’s weight room to a much larger facility and multiple additions to the coaching staff.

Those who watched the Cavaliers this spring noticed McClure was one of just three on staff. For reference, Lee County Schools allots eight paid football positions for the season, so McClure was more than excited to introduce me to two additional coached for the fall season, bringing his number to five (he also told me he’s hoping two more will join at the start of August, bringing his total to seven). This is a huge improvement for the Cavaliers.

Like the Yellow Jackets, the Cavaliers are excited about several of their seniors, including John Wilson, Cam Jackson, Josh Stone and Nassir Blue.

“We look forward to having the ability to shock a few people this year,” said McClure. “When everyone’s expectation is for you to lose, you can come in under the radar and really shock some people.”

There are a ton of big nights this season for both high schools, and none of us in the football community can wait to cheer on both the Cavaliers and the Yellow Jackets. Below are some important dates for both teams to mark on your calendar:

Lee County Yellow Jackets:
8/13 – Jacket Jamboree
8/27 – Senior Night vs. Overhills High School

Southern Lee Cavaliers:
8/27 – Essential Workers Night vs. Green Hope
9/10 – Senior Night vs. Fairmont
9/24 – Middle School Night vs. Scotland County
10/8 – Homecoming vs. Hoke County
10/29 – Veterans Night vs. Lee County High School

Nathan Cochrane is a construction consultant in the private sector. Prior to that, he coached high school and middle school football for six years and remains involved in the game as an announcer and booster.