FOOTBALL TAB -- North Lenoir preview
By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on August 19, 2010 2:23 PM
Calvin Sutton anticipated his first year as head football coach at his alma mater to be a challenge.
What Sutton didn't expect was injuries, academic issues, countless untimely turnovers, five losses by 45 or more points and a 2-9 season.
"I lost my quarterback for five games," said Sutton. "I had both of my running backs miss a game or two. Injuries really killed us. Academics and ineligibility was another thing I was fighting when I got here."
A productive offseason, a renewed commitment to academics and a competitive battle for the starting quarterback spot has given the North Lenoir head coach reason for optimism.
"I rebuilt my senior class and I think we're going to have a pretty good group of guys that will hopefully allow us to be successful this year," said Sutton.
Tailback Maurice Morgan, an N.C. State signee, is once again expected to be the focal point of the Hawks' offense. Morgan, who received interest from East Carolina, among others, rushed for more than 750 yards last season and should benefit from an improved offensive line.
"Maurice is going to be Maurice," said Sutton. "He's a play-maker. We need to get guys helping him out so it's not just Maurice carrying the load week in and week out. We don't want him to be burned out by the time we get to conference play."
Senior quarterback Romero Arnold has shown dramatic improvement during summer workouts, while junior Jaquan Williams has loosened Arnolds' grasp on the starting job. Senior tailback Mike Sutton should help lessen Morgan's workload in the backfield. Receivers Trey Strickland and Marquel Gibbs are back as targets on the outside.
"Being thrown into the starter's role last season when Romero went down has really helped Jaquan," said Sutton. "Jaquan is really coming on strong. We're going to see how Romero is going to react."
Caleb Wiggins, Jordan Minshew and Nygel Robinson return to an experienced offensive line.
"In high school football you've got to be able to run the football a little bit," said Sutton. "So much of that starts with the offensive line because they play a major role in the running and the passing. I'm excited about that group."
Hampered by an offense that struggled to move the football and score points in 2009, North Lenoir found its defense on the field for long periods of time.
Opponents eclipsed the 40-point mark seven times a year ago. Sutton is relying on a more explosive unit to limit big plays offensively and get off the field on third down.
"I think we will be a lot more explosive than we were," said Sutton. "I don't think we tackled very well last year. With injuries, we couldn't really hit each other like I wanted to. I think we'll be a lot more physical."
The Hawks have won just 15 games in the past six seasons and haven't won more than five games since a six-win season in 2004. North Lenoir's last playoff appearance came in 2006.
One of Sutton's biggest tasks has been rebuilding the confidence of his players and changing the mentality of the program.
"The morale was kind of down," said Sutton. "Traditionally, North Lenoir has never been a perennial powerhouse. We're just trying to get where we can get out there, know what we're doing and play consistent from week to week. Most of it has been a mindset thing.
"There's a mindset of being a complete student-athlete around here now."
North Lenoir opens its season Friday at home against East Duplin.