Ben Murphy
Contributing Writer

(Photo Provided)

Believe it or not the start of high school football practice is only about three weeks away. For Michael Sparks, who is set to enter his fifth season as Charlotte’s head coach, the start of the season (practice begins August 7) can’t come soon enough; especially if 2023 goes anything like last year’s campaign.

“Last year’s success can be greatly attributed to the large number of returning and experienced players,” he said. “As a result, we were able to become more fundamentally sound on offense, defense and special teams.”

The Orioles turned that experience into a 9-2 record. They took second place in the Capital Area Activities Conference White and their 27-15 win over notoriously strong Chelsea in the opening round of the playoffs was the program’s first post-season win since 2004.

“Winning our first home playoff game in a number of years was very motivating for the team, additionally we gained another week of practice to further develop our program,” Sparks said.

The Orioles will have to deal with the departure of 15 seniors from that squad. Regardless of that though they hope to reload for another run this fall.

“We have very high expectations for our 2023 season,” Sparks said. “While we will not have a large roster, we expect to be very competitive. Cutler Brandt will lead the way defensively as he returns as our all-time season record holder in total tackles, he is a very dynamic offensive weapon as well. Senior Maliki Garza figures to be a major weapon on both sides of the ball this year also. The offense will be led by two returning quarterbacks; senior Ben Buzzard who started the season undefeated last year, until he was injured in week five. His replacement Christian Powers will be a junior and led the team to five victories. Both of these young men excelled last season and we look for both of them to be even better this year.”

The list of promising players didn’t stop there either. Sparks went on to name Carson Berkompas, Matteau Hulsebos, Reid Blasius, Van Reid, Clark Aapala, Troy Huber, Jared Brown, Jayden Kill, Zac Lapoint, Aiden Johnson, Tyler Bidelman and Tim Bensinger all as key players returning with experience.

Add in an influx of talent from a JV team that won six games last year, and the Orioles believe they have all the makings of something special.

“We expect to be very competitive this season; with the addition of two new teams in the conference (Olivet and Lakewood) and a new nonconference opponent (Three Rivers) we are very eager to get to work as we know that the road to a championship will not be easy,” Sparks said.

Throw in the one game at a time mentality and there is no telling just how far this group can go.

“We know that we have to play well every week in order to compete, however we expect that we will do exactly that,” Sparks said. “We will not take any opponent lightly and expect that each of those same opponents will give us their best game respectively. If anything; last year’s success has made us more of a target this year and we will be prepared for that each night. We hope to compete for a league championship, build on last years’ success and win a district title. Once a team gets that far, anything can happen and so our ultimate goal is play for and win a state championship at Ford Field on Thanksgiving weekend.”