08/10/05 — EPC 2-A Coaches: Rams No. 1

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EPC 2-A Coaches: Rams No. 1

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on August 10, 2005 2:29 PM

LAGRANGE -- There were no surprises during Tuesday morning's annual Class 2-A Eastern Plains Conference football meeting. Coaches welcomed a former league power and an "unknown," but didn't change their minds when picking the preseason favorite.

Either Tarboro High or Greene Central have captured the EPC title a combined seven of the past eight seasons. This time, league coaches tabbed Greene Central to emerge the front-runner when the final regular-season game is played Nov. 4.

The Rams received five first-place votes and 25 points, easily out-distancing the Vikings -- by the way -- who are the reigning league champions. Tarboro earned one first-place vote and 18 points in balloting.

Farmville Central, which has six EPC titles, finished one point behind Tarboro in the six-team poll. North Lenoir and conference newcomer Goldsboro finished tied for fourth with 12 points apiece, and North Pitt collected six points.

More than 400 people attended Monday's annual Blue-White scrimmage at Greene Central to get a first glimpse at Jim Bob Bryant's third varsity team.

The Rams started 10 sophomores and two freshmen a year ago, and finished third in the league. That translated to a 6-6 record and an opening-round loss at Southwest Onslow in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 2-A (small-school) playoffs.

"Last year, we fell off a little bit and hopefully we'll get that swagger back a little bit this year," said Bryant. "We feel like we've got a good core of kids coming back and the conference is going to be competitive all the way around. It will be a fight every Friday night.

"We've got just as good of a shot of winning the title as everybody else."

Greene Central has won 13 of its last 15 EPC regular-season games.

Second-year Tarboro High coach Jeff Craddock spent a minute or two stifling a laugh when informed his team had been picked near the top again.

"I'm not confident with it at all, to be honest with you," said Craddock. "I do think we're going to be competitive, but there are four teams with a legitimate shot at being conference champion.

"I've always told our kids it doesn't matter where you're picked or how you start, it's where you finish."

A year ago, Tarboro was picked to finish third and one vote from fourth. The Vikings grabbed the EPC title and suffered a disappointing first-round playoff defeat at home against Richlands.

Craddock is using that loss as motivation this season.

"I look for any little thing I can get," said a grinning Craddock.

The Vikings will be led by senior Shaun Draughn, who has already signed a national letter-of-intent with North Carolina. A 6-foot, 190-pounder, Draughn rambled for more than 1,000 yards and accounted for 21 touchdowns in 12 games.

Draughn, a three-year varsity starter, seized EPC offensive player of the year accolades.

"He's a great kid, good student and leads by example," Craddock said. "He's a quiet young man and everything's he has gotten, he's worked for."

Farmville Central, 7-7 a year ago, reached the eastern semifinals of the NCHSAA 1-A (small-school) playoffs for third consecutive year. Veteran coach Dixon Sauls said the athletic program is better suited for the 1-A level, but is looking forward to the challenge of returning to the EPC.

"We remember this conference well," said Dixon, who is 225-101 in 20-plus seasons on the gridiron. "We'll now be the small fish in the big pond again instead of the big fish in the small pond."

Graduation and offseason losses changed North Lenoir's preseason plans. The Hawks expected to have six returners on offense, but now have two -- a lineman and quarterback Andrew Manning.

Preseason scrimmages against Wilson Fike, Havelock and East Carteret will give head coach Wayne Jackson an idea of what he's got.

Coaches spent part of Tuesday attempting to gather information on "unknown" Goldsboro. The Cougars were 1-10 a year ago in their final season on the 3-A level, and bring a talented, young group of players into the league.

"That's a good thing and gives us an edge," said third-year Goldsboro coach Maurice Jackson, who preferred the "unknown" label. "In return, we don't know a lot about anybody else. We've been thrown into the fire, but we're ready ... I think."