12/12/10 — News-Argus Coach of the Year -- EW's Bubba Williams

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News-Argus Coach of the Year -- EW's Bubba Williams

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on December 12, 2010 1:50 AM

On paper and according to preseason predictions, Eastern Wayne appeared a likely candidate to finish at the bottom of the Eastern Carolina 3-A Conference in football.

After all, the Warriors won just one game in 2009.

And question marks surrounded the 2010 team, comprised mostly of seniors who were eager to reverse a trend that's plagued the program for two-plus decades. Before this fall, Eastern Wayne had experienced just four winning campaigns since 1990.

"Our biggest problem was our confidence," said second-year EW head coach Guy "Bubba" Williams. "(A 1-10 year) makes you think you're not very good and that was a problem with our kids. We took them to combines over the summer and that showed them they could compete.

"We went to the Elite Eight combine and had four or five kids medal, and that went a long way."

Ascending in the highly-competitive ECC, which experienced little parity this season, was a big challenge for Williams and his players. They finished non-conference play 4-2, including an overtime victory over county nemesis Goldsboro.

That early-season success, says Williams, boosted the team's self belief.

"I really think the turning point was we went into conference (play) with a winning record and that was big for our kids," said Williams. "They needed that push. We started beating people with a little bit of a reputation."

Eastern Wayne upended 2009 ECC champ South Johnston on the road, beat Triton at home and turned back county foe Charles B. Aycock in Pikeville. Archrival Southern Wayne emerged the Warriors' lone league loss and Williams' team rebounded to defeat North Lenoir.

The Warriors secured their first conference championship since 1978 and just the second overall in program history. They compiled an 8-4 worksheet after falling to Southern Vance in the opening round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 3-A (small school) playoffs.

"Once we realized we were just as good athletically as anybody else, that piqued our confidence," said Williams. "We preached all along that we had the potential to be a good football team."

Williams made staff changes, which also contributed to the team's success, during the offseason. Glen Gardner was moved to defensive coordinator. Charles Lawrence handled the defensive line, while Tyshawn Smith coached the defensive backs.

Josh Herring, a former standout quarterback at North Duplin, groomed Avner Clark into one of the area's top signal callers. And having all-purpose back Lamar Best, a diminutive senior with a heart bigger than his 5-foot-6 frame, as an offensive juggernaut didn't hurt, either.

"We've always had the athletes and the coaching staff worked extremely hard, so I consider coach of the year more of a staff award than a personal award," said Williams. "The kids got a better understanding of the system, committed to it and it worked. They believed we were heading in the right direction and that was the difference."

So was confidence.