08/12/10 — EPC class loaded with top programs

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EPC class loaded with top programs

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on August 12, 2010 1:46 PM

TARBORO -- Teams from the Eastern Plains 2-A Conference certainly won't sneak up on anyone this season.

In 2009, three league members -- Tarboro, Kinston and SouthWest Edgecombe -- advanced to either the semifinal or championship round in regional competition. Tarboro ventured one step further and seized the N.C. High School Athletic Association 2-A state championship.

All of those teams are expected to contend for EPC supremacy this season. Unlike a year ago, however, each team is experiencing depth concerns and key injuries could decimate their respective campaigns.

SouthWest Edgecombe is predicted to successfully defend its conference title. The Cougars, who have 24 seniors, collected five first-place votes and 35 points in a poll conducted at the annual EPC fall meeting Wednesday morning.

Tarboro received the other two first-place votes and picked up 32 points. Kinston, directed by new head coach Nick Anderson, was tabbed third with 24 points. Wilson Beddingfield (18 points), Farmville Central (17), Greene Central (13) and North Pitt (8) rounded out the seven-team league.

"We joked at the spring meeting that we're all trying to figure out who will be third behind the two heavy hitters (SWE, Tarboro)," said sixth-year North Pitt coach Dave Boal.

Viking coach Jeff Craddock balked at the remark.

Twenty-five seniors, including several three-year starters, graduated. The Vikings return three offensive and four defensive starters, and two saw extensive time on both sides of the ball in 2009.

"If you guys are expecting last year's football team to step out onto that field this year for Tarboro, you'll be in for a pleasant surprise," said Craddock. "We don't have it. We had a good JV team, but that's JV. These boys are up as juniors and there is some talent there.

"But they have very little experience on Friday nights."

SWE head coach Raymond Cobb, who won two 1-A state titles at North Edgecombe, echoed Craddock's sentiments. The Cougars return quality skill players, but are cautiously optimistic about their line play in the preseason.

"We've got a lot of experience coming back, but last year we were a team with great depth," said Cobb. "Injuries weren't a factor for us. If we have any injuries (this year), we're in trouble. We're a lot thinner (depth-wise) and not as big and strong up front.

"We have a lot of players on defense to replace."

Anderson will depend on a junior-laden class to provide leadership for a senior-thin club at Kinston. The Vikings won 12 games last season and fell to eventual state champion Reidsville in the 2-AA east finals.

Anderson was hired roughly six weeks ago.

"(The hiring) was later than you like it to be and we have an extensive playbook," said Anderson. "I'm excited because I'm walking into a good situation with great kids who know how to win. This conference is a lot tougher than what we had at (Greenville) Rose the last couple of years."

Beddingfield coach Tyrone Johnson implemented mandatory weight room workouts during the offseason. The strategy weeded out the weaklings and gave the veteran coach a good core of players who want to put the Bruins back among the elite.

Third-year Greene Central head coach Ken Grantham has been working with nearly 70 kids during the preseason, including 32 on the varsity. Six offensive and six defensive starters return.

The senior class has accepted leadership responsibilities, which has alleviated some pressure on Grantham.

"I think we're better than what we've been (in the past) and each year we've taken steps to get better," said Grantham. "This is an extremely competitive league. Looking at the talent in this league and how well we play each other, I think anybody can win this league.

"It will be interesting to see how it all falls out."