07/28/04 — NL football gets EPC's preseason nod

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NL football gets EPC's preseason nod

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on July 28, 2004 1:56 PM

DEEP RUN -- The North Lenoir football program, which experienced its best season in nearly two decades last fall, found itself in an unfamiliar situation Tuesday afternoon.

Conference peers tabbed the Hawks as the team to beat in this year's Class 2-A Eastern Plains Conference title chase. North Lenoir received four first-place votes among the league's six coaches and earned 24 points.

"That remains to be seen," chuckled Hawks coach Wayne Jackson. "There are an awful lot things that need to be done, work and games to be played before all that comes out to be known."

Two-time defending EPC champion Greene Central grabbed one first-place vote and claimed second with 19 points. Archrivals Tarboro High and SouthWest Edgecombe nearly finished in a dead heat for third. Tarboro, which snagged a first-place vote, tallied 17 points compared to 16 for its county foe.

North Pitt took fifth with nine points, while South Lenoir ended up a consensus pick for sixth.

"I wanted to get them to point where they were competitive and that they could win," Jackson said. "We seem to have gotten somewhere close to that, but I don't know if we're to the point that we can win a championship ... yet.

"There are so many things that go into winning, other than having just physical talent. We've gotten better, but do we have all those other things that make a championship football team?"

North Lenoir set a single-season record for victories (8) a year ago and earned its second straight playoff berth with a convincing, season-ending 49-29 victory against Tarboro. The Hawks recorded their highest finish (second) ever in conference play, and won four league contests for the first time since 1980.

However, the Hawks stumbled in the first round.

Greene Central, Tarboro and SouthWest Edgecombe also advanced to the playoffs. Tarboro and SouthWest each fell in their respective opening-round contest.

The Rams, who haven't lost an EPC game since 2001, posted 11 wins and reached the eastern 2-A (small-school) semifinals. They lost several key performers off that team, including Montrell Lee, who signed with The Citadel.

Jackson expects the league to be good again.

"You can pencil us in (at the top) if you want to, but that's all it is -- pencil," Jackson said. "With all the new faces and excitement everybody else is generating at their school, this is going to be a very competitive league this year.

"We'll be able to see it come playoff time."

Two new coaches join the league this season.

Raymond Cobb, who earned more than 150 victories at 1-A North Edgecombe, took over the SouthWest Edgecombe program in the spring. Jeff Craddock, a long-time assistant and friend to former coach Mike Schott, assumed the head duties at Tarboro less than three weeks ago.

Patrick Whitford (South Lenoir), Ron Butler (North Pitt) and JimBob Bryant (Greene Central) each begin their second campaign at their respective schools. Jackson starts his fifth season at North Lenoir when practice kicks off this afternoon.

"They were just picking on me, saying I'm the 'old man' of the conference," a grinning Jackson said. "But there are those coaches who are older and more experienced than me who are new in the league ... great coaches like Raymond Cobb, who brings a great tradition from North Edgecombe to SouthWest Edgecombe. He's going to do a great job there.

"Coach Craddock will be consistent and has always done a great job with the Tarboro defense. Pat is doing an outstanding job at South Lenoir and has brought a new energy here that they have not had."

EPC teams will open their season either Aug. 20 or 27.