08/13/10 — ECC 3-A poll released

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ECC 3-A poll released

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on August 13, 2010 1:47 PM

CLAYTON -- "Competitive and balanced" was the catch phrase buzzing throughout the Eastern Carolina 3-A Conference preseason football rouser Thursday morning at Cleveland High School.

The six head coaches all agreed last year's inexperienced teams gained some ground this season and closed the gap on the 2009 heavyweights -- state runner-up South Johnston, league runner-up Triton and Charles B. Aycock.

Despite improvement, the trio is expected to occupy the top three slots again this fall. South Johnston received two first-place votes and 22 points, one point more than second-place Triton, which garnered two first-place nods.

Aycock secured two first-place votes and picked up 19 points. Southern Wayne (13 points), North Lenoir (8) and Eastern Wayne (7) rounded out the poll.

"The top teams are a lot younger than they were (last year) and the rest of the teams are going to better (after) playing good, young talent last year," said South Johnston head coach Joe Salas. "It will be tough this year. Southern Wayne is cycling up again. North Lenoir and Eastern Wayne looked fantastic in track meets (last spring).

"Those guys have matured a year in the weight room."

The Trojans graduated 23 seniors off last year's team, which lost to Belmont South Point in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 3-AA title game. Salas said a majority of the returners benefited greatly from those extra postseason contests.

More than 90 players -- varsity and JV combined -- have reported to practice daily in Four Oaks. The Trojans return several lettermen, but just six starters -- two on offense and four on defense.

"I think we're going to be in the mix, but we've got a lot of work to do," said Salas. "We've got a lot of babies filling their shoes. We think this is a rebuilding year, and we define that as we're going to be a lot better at the end than we are at the beginning."

To stay in the ECC title chase, Aycock must avoid injuries to its big three -- North Carolina signee Jarrod James, all-purpose back Craig Murdock and signal caller Tyler Farmer.

The Golden Falcons started 7-0 last season and finished with 10 wins, the highest single-season victory total during Randy Pinkowski's tenure as head coach in Pikeville. While the preseason poll provides some "fodder" talk among players and teams, Pinkowski sticks to his philosophy -- take care of Aycock.

"I don't care anything about a preseason poll," said Pinkowski. "All I know is we're going to go out there and worry about us, and how we play. We try to do everything as best we can, and we'll let it play out on Friday night.

"The folks underneath us (from last year) have improved and you're going to see that gap close a little bit. There are going to be some close games, and you're going see somebody sneak up and bite somebody."

The bite could come from Southern Wayne, which earned four third-place votes from five head coaches. The Saints nearly return their offensive line intact and seven starters overall on that side of the ball.

Seven starters are back on defense, including linebacker Tobias Flow. Nine sophomores saw extensive playing time in 2009 on a team that finished 2-2 in its final four ballgames.

"We're still a young team, but with a little more experience," said Southern Wayne head coach Bob Warren. "We're excited about the season and things are going very good (in practice) to this point."

Although improved, North Lenoir and Eastern Wayne are slated to battle for the league's bottom two spots.

The Hawks return a strong, experienced senior class and 17 lettermen overall in Wheat Swamp. The Warriors have 32 varsity players, including 16 seniors who all saw playing time at some point last season.

"We've got guys who can play, but it's a commitment issue," said second-year Eastern Wayne head coach Guy "Bubba" Williams. "We'll find some of that out in our scrimmages. The biggest thing is we need to compete and I don't think we competed at times last year."