Aycock, Southern Wayne tied for third in poll
By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on August 15, 2006 2:18 PM
Football coaches on the Class 3-A Eastern Carolina Conference scene used one word -- balance -- to describe play among its six league members this season.
The preseason poll conducted Monday morning at Wilber's Barbecue certainly reflected their opinions. Three teams each received first-place votes and a mere nine points separated the top four teams overall.
The voting confirmed the coaches' beliefs that Wilson County powers Hunt and Beddingfield won't run away from league opposition this season. Hunt, the reigning ECC champion, did emerge with the bullseye in tow for this season after garnering four first-place votes and 24 points total.
The ink had barely dried on veteran coach Randy Raper's ballot sheet when he learned his Hunt squad had been picked to win the conference title.
"That's typical," said Raper, who begins his 16th season Friday evening at Northern Nash. "They know they've got to put it on somebody, so they might as well stick it to Hunt. That's fine and we've been in that position before.
"The coaching staff understands and our kids understand that it means little or nothing. It's all got to happen on the football field."
Coaches selected Beddingfield, an eastern playoff semifinalist last season, to finish second. The Bruins, surprisingly, didn't receive a first-place vote and collected 18 points total on the six ballots.
County rivals Southern Wayne and Charles B. Aycock each drew a first-place nod and ended up tied with 17 points apiece. Kinston and Eastern Wayne completed the poll with eight and six points, respectively.
"It's nice to be picked (No. 1) ... fine and dandy," said Raper. "It makes you proud to be honored in that fashion. There again, if we don't perform and don't do what we need to do (every Friday), it's all for naught.
"(The poll) is just a piece of paper."
The Warriors return 18 lettermen, including senior offensive/defensive tackle Justin Whaley, who has committed to N.C. State. Also back among Hunt's nine starters are senior running back/strong safety James Pone and junior quarterback William Hesmer.
Beddingfield welcomed the return of former head coach Tyrone Johnson, who guided the program to immeasurable success during his 10-year tenure. The Bruins have 16 lettermen back, but just five starters including senior defensive standouts Robert Clay (linebacker) and Jamel Ward (end).
"I think it will be a competitive conference; everybody will basically be about the same," said the 43-year-old Johnson. "Every week anybody can beat anybody else. We say that all the time, but I really believe that since the conference is evenly balanced."
Johnson based his opinion on viewing junior varsity teams last season and that most of the varsity squads are returning more-experienced players. His assessment complemented comments offered by Aycock veteran coach Randy Pinkowski, third-year Eastern Wayne head coach Jeff Price and new Kinston coach Tony Edwards.
"It's going to be another tough year," said Price. "You know what most of the schools lost in terms of seniors, but don't know what they gained in terms of what they had on JV.
"I expect the Wilson schools to be strong, along with Southern Wayne and C.B. Aycock. I think everybody will be more competitive this year, top to bottom."
Eastern Wayne fashioned a 4-1-1 record in non-conference play, but faltered once the conference season began. The Warriors limped to a 4-6-1 mark and Price attributed the decline to lack of focus and concentration, not athleticism.
The Warriors return several quality players from a year ago, including seniors Kendrick Best and all-ECC linebacker Adrian Black. Alvino Daniels and Brandon Johnson are back, also.
Southern Wayne returns the league's top running back -- junior Anthony Council. The bruising back rambled for 2,129 yards and 28 touchdowns, and helped the Saints seize their first-ever playoff victory in school history.
Aycock has the most starters (13) returning among any team in the league and 18 lettermen back overall. Pinkowski expects good things from senior quarterback Thomas Pilkington and senior Montez Ham, who earned all-ECC honors a year ago.
"I tell you, I think it's one of the toughest conferences around year in and out with great athletes and good coaches," said Pinkowski, who begins his 8th season at West Carteret on Friday. "I think this year, too, it's going to be competitive. Hunt and Beddingfield both lost a good number of experienced players and the Wayne County teams are returning good numbers.
"You're going to see a competitive, balanced group."
Kinston, however, could be the darkhorse. The addition of eight talented basketball players has boosted the Vikings on the athletic side of the scale. The group brings talent and heart to a team that lost 10 consecutive games before a season-ending victory against Eastern Wayne in 2005.
The Vikings scrimmaged Southwest Onslow and D.H. Conley on back-to-back days, and drew praise from Edwards. After a shaky start in each outing, Kinston's talent rose to the surface and touchdowns were abundant, much to the delight of fans who are used to seeing winning teams each year.
"I expect no less than a winning season," said Edwards. "I'm going to put a lot of pressure on these kids to do the right things and believe in hard work."
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