12/11/05 — Raising the bar

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Raising the bar

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on December 11, 2005 2:12 AM

Losing a starting quarterback can decimate just about any football team -- except for Southern Wayne.

When junior Michael Holland broke his arm in a preseason scrimmage, the Saints coaching staff didn't fret. They didn't scrap the playbook and they didn't change the dynamics of the offense.

Veteran coach Bob Warren remained calm.

"Really, at that point in the season, we didn't know what our strengths and weaknesses were going to be," said Warren, who completed his 11th season at the Class 3-A Eastern Carolina Conference school. "We didn't make a choice of changing anything. When something like that happens, you have to look at what you have and keep going."

The Saints didn't skip a beat.

Warren moved backup Emmanuel Hinton to quarterback and he directed the wing-T offense with ease. Using stellar sophomore running back Anthony Council as its main workhorse, Southern Wayne reeled off eight wins and seized the school's first-ever postseason victory.

The Saints posted their fifth winning season in the last seven years under Warren, who has been named the 2005 News-Argus All-Area Football Coach of the Year.

"There is a lot involved in being a head coach, but to be a very good football team, you have to have great assistant coaches," said Warren, whose career record is 56-68. "I've been blessed with having that all the way through the varsity ranks and at the junior varsity level.

"Our coaching staff really worked hard and all the credit for our success goes to them."

Southern Wayne graduated its largest class -- 16 seniors -- from its 2004 team and returned very few starters on either side of the ball this fall. Warren expected an inexperienced offensive line to show its youth early and figured it would face a challenge blocking for its skilled backs.

He was right.

The Saints faced a demanding non-conference schedule and fashioned a 1-2 record after three weeks of play. Warren and his staff stayed focused on the "one game at a time" approach, working on the team's weaknesses and building on the team's strengths.

"We knew this team would rely on how quickly the young kids would mature and how quickly our offensive line could learn," said Warren. "Learning blocking schemes is something that takes a period of time. You don't have rules to memorize, but schemes to learn.

"How quickly we matured in areas would depend on how quickly we got seams or cracks for our talented running backs. Our defense, I thought, made plays for us and helped our offense."

After a loss at former Mideastern 4-A nemesis Wilmington Hoggard, the Saints ripped off four consecutive victories. They finished 2-2 over the final four weeks of regular-season play, which led to third place in the highly-competitive ECC.

Southern Wayne drew a first-round playoff game at Bertie and looked to eradicate its 0-6 record in the postseason. Council ran for 300-plus yards in a 47-18 victory at Bertie, but the celebration ended the next week with a loss at Northeast Guilford.

The Saints concluded the year 8-5.

"All those good things happened because of hard work," said Warren, whose team was picked fourth in the preseason ECC poll. "But our season started out with good senior leadership that didn't start at the beginning of the year, but what they did prior to that.

"Senior leadership ... what you do academically and what happens on the field ... helps you get through the times it takes you to build (a good team)."

The younger players meshed well with the seniors and Warren credited the team's work ethic for striving to meet its preseason goals. The players kept everything in perspective, worked hard and turned into a "fun" bunch.

And they raised the standard of Southern Wayne football.