QUESTION: Can Highland Springs repeat as state champion?

ANSWER: Yes. What made the 2015 Highland Springs team different were its linemen. For years, the Springers have had athletic quarterbacks, receivers and running backs. But the 2015 squad also had big, talented linemen who gave the Springers a ferocious running attack and a defense capable of stopping power rushing attacks. And most of those linemen, including Mekhi Becton and Mike Greene, are back.

Perhaps the biggest question looming at Highland Springs is the health of its quarterback, Juwan Carter (left), who was second-team All-Metro last year. He had surgery for a torn labrum and is expected to return in time for the season, but will he be 100 percent?

QUESTION: Can L.C. Bird and Hermitage hang with Highland Springs?

ANSWER: Last year, Highland Springs, Bird and Hermitage were a step above every other Richmond-area team. Bird, it seems, will remain in that elite class. The Skyhawks have two Division I linebackers (Rayshard Ashby and Isaiah Moore) and a big, brutal running back, Shedrick McCall (6-foot-2, 240 pounds).

Hermitage, however, will begin the year as a bit of a mystery. The Panthers’ lineup in 2015 consisted of almost all seniors, meaning this year’s team will be full of new faces. The Hermitage program is as good as any in the area, so expect a talented lineup. Just how good will the new Hermitage team be? We’ll find out right away when it takes on Highland Springs on Aug. 26.

QUESTION: Who will be good outside 5A?

ANSWER: Several good teams from 2015 return key pieces of their lineups. Dinwiddie (4A) returns quarterback Bryce Witt and receiver/linebacker K’Vaughan Pope. Thomas Dale (6A) brings back RB Max Oxendine, QB Matt Lawton and debuts freshman receiver Chris Tyree. Hopewell (3A) still has QB Cameren Hill and running back Ronnie Walker, who could be one of the area’s best rushers as a junior. Look for Hanover and Monacan to be solid contenders in 4A, as usual. King William and Goochland should continue to be strong in 2A. Benedictine will continue to be one of the state’s top private school teams.

QUESTION: Who are the top recruits in the class of 2017?

ANSWER: Mekhi Becton of Highland Springs has offers from Virginia, Virginia Tech, Michigan and Penn State, among others. Newcomer Jermani Brown of Midlothian has offers from Arizona State, Nebraska, Virginia and Virginia Tech, among others. Glen Allen quarterback Alex Faniel has committed to Mississippi. Bird’s Rayshard Ashby chose Virginia Tech, and teammate Isaiah Moore committed to N.C. State. Benedictine linebacker Ellis Brooks committed to Duke, then reopened his recruitment. Dinwiddie receiver and defensive back Tye Freeland has offers from Virginia and Wake Forest.

QUESTION: Can teams from Hanover County be as good as last year?

ANSWER: It will be tough. Last year, Hanover County’s four teams — Atlee, Hanover, Lee-Davis and Patrick Henry — combined for a record 29-18. But Atlee has a new coach, Hanover must replace its offensive line and Lee-Davis must find a new quarterback. So there are plenty of questions to be answered.

QUESTION: Who has a new coach this year?

ANSWER: There are seven new leaders: Matt Gray at Atlee, Chuck Robinson at Blessed Sacrament Huguenot, John Fout at Clover Hill, Chad Hornik at Deep Run, Sal Camp at Glen Allen, Mike Scott at Petersburg and Chris Mitchell at Thomas Jefferson.

QUESTION: Are there any alignment changes this year?

ANSWER: No. But don’t get too comfortable with this system. The Virginia High School League has another overhaul planned for 2017.

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ekolenich@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6109

@EricKolenichRTD

Sports reporter

Eric Kolenich writes sports stories for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, focusing on local athletes and teams. He graduated from the University of Virginia in 2008 with a BA in English and joined the paper in 2009. (804) 649-6109

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