08/10/11 — Triton the favorite in ECC

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Triton the favorite in ECC

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on August 10, 2011 1:46 PM

Triton has been in contention to claim a conference football championship each of the past four seasons, and finally broke through in 2010 by earning a share of the Eastern Carolina 3-A crown -- its first in program history.

League coaches predict a repeat in 2011.

The Hawks collected six first-place votes and the maximum 36 points in a poll conducted by the News-Argus during the annual ECC media luncheon on Tuesday afternoon. South Johnston, the 2009 league champion, received one first-place vote and 31 points.

Defending co-champ Eastern Wayne picked up 23 points and one second-place nod. Southern Wayne (21 points), Cleveland (16), Charles B. Aycock (14) and North Lenoir (6) rounded out the seven-team league.

"Can we take that in writing right now?" quipped ninth-year Triton head coach Joe McCullen of the final vote tally. "That will save me a whole lot of sleepless nights. Just go ahead and give me the plaque, and we'll just take it on back to the kids ... tell them we're already conference champs.

"It's just a tribute to our assistant coaches and kids that we've been consistent through the years. (But) you don't play it on paper, you play it on Friday nights."

Triton returns 13 starters and 30 lettermen off last year's team that lost an opening-round playoff game against Northern Guilford. All-ECC performers Patrick McNeill and Dedrick Stacker are back for their senior and junior campaigns, respectively.

McNeill, a strong safety, recorded 49 tackles and three picks a year ago. Stacker accounted for nearly 800 yards of total offense and eight touchdowns. Each player is getting attention from college scouts.

South Johnston heads into 2011 with a new coach.

Joe Salas recently stepped down and left a cupboard full of talent for former assistant Shane Dular. The Trojans have 13 starters back off a squad that reached the second round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association playoffs in 2010.

"The kids have been fantastic," said Dular of the offseason turmoil. "Sometimes I think players are more resilient than adults. We came in and I'm lucky I have a relationship with everyone already. (We've) gotten back to work and tried to catch up."

Preseason all-state pick Chris Crumity and quarterback Michael Booker sparked the Trojans to nine wins a year ago. Crumity rushed for nearly 1,700 yards and 13 scores. Booker completed 233 passes for 3,622 yards and 32 TDs, and rushed for another 10 touchdowns.

Junior defensive back Quentin Williams registered 34 tackles and returned 15 punts for nearly 500 yards.

Eastern Wayne graduated 13 seniors off last year's team which claimed the program's first league championship -- and second overall -- since 1978. The Warriors will be young overall and will depend on a small corps of seniors to provide leadership.

Senior wideout Tykwan Days and junior receiver Lamorris Pridgen combined to haul in more than 1,400 yards for the Warriors a year ago.

New head coach David Lee takes over the Southern Wayne program for Bob Warren, who retired last February. Lee inherits a team that remains young, but has another year of experience in its wing-T formation.

Cleveland ventures into varsity play after its JV squad posted a 10-0 ledger last fall. Head coach Mark Morris, who left Harnett Central to direct the Rams' program, is cautiously optimistic about his team's success.

Aycock has already suffered a preseason blow. AJ Mundle, a solid blocking tight end, may have a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his right knee. Head coach Randy Pinkowski is awaiting the MRI results.

North Lenoir alum and second-year head coach Calvin Sutton continues to work to change the culture in Wheat Swamp. The Hawks showed steady improvement in offseason workouts, and Sutton hopes that's a sign of good things for the future.

"It should be a fun year for us," said McCullen. "I think you've got to watch out for Southern Wayne. (They've) done a good job building over there, they're always consistent, but have been up and down a little bit at times.

"To me, Cleveland is the unknown. Are they going to be able to compete with no seniors? They've got some good talent because I saw them in track."