08/22/11 — FOOTBALL TAB -- Warriors eager to silence their critics

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FOOTBALL TAB -- Warriors eager to silence their critics

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on August 22, 2011 1:47 PM

Eastern Wayne has yet to play a single game this season and yet the criticism has already begun to mount. Too young, unproven and too depleted of talent by graduation have all been reasons given as to why the Warriors won't succeed in 2011.

They were picked to finish fifth in the Eastern Carolina 3-A Conference by NCPreps.com and third by the ECC coaches.

Eastern Wayne lost 13 seniors off last year's team that finished 8-4 and shared the ECC championship with Triton. Gone is all-purpose standout Lamar Best, who accounted for 2,179 yards of total offense and 26 touchdowns. The 5-foot-6 sparkplug rushed for 1,876 yards, while also taking snaps at quarterback, wide receiver, safety and as a kick returner.

Warriors' head coach Bubba Williams has welcomed the lack of preseason expectations while exuding a quiet confidence about his team.

"Last year, our defense was a little ahead of our offense until our offense caught up," said Williams. "Our offense is going to have to set up our defense until our defense can grow up. Every preseason poll and the conference coaches don't really expect much out of us again and I think that puts us in a good position as far as our kids' mentality.

"It helps us realize we've got work to do."

Senior quarterback Avner Clark returns to an offense that averaged 27 points a game in 2010. Clark threw for 1,280 yards and nine touchdowns with nine interceptions. He also rushed for six touchdowns.

Tykwan Days, the area's second-leading receiver as a junior last season, gives Clark a dangerous deep threat on the outside. Days hauled in 29 receptions for 729 yards and seven touchdowns a year ago. Junior wideout Lamorris Pridgen and slot receiver Stephan Woodard are both back. Williams hopes to utilize Connor Preston at multiple positions.

Shelton Pender, the Warriors' primary fullback a year ago, assumes the tailback duties with the departure of Best. Center Javon Wooten and tackles Jeff Head and Ronald Armond, all returning starters, are being counted on to anchor the offensive line.

With a bevy of talent to distribute the ball to, Clark knows the onus falls on his shoulders to engineer an offense than displayed big-play ability at times last season.

"Last year, I had Lamar," said Clark. "This year, on every play I've got to play my hardest. Everybody does. We've got some young linemen. It puts a responsibility on me, but I'm ready for it, though. I've got to improve on my accuracy and taking control of the line."

Eastern Wayne's defense remains a work in progress as the start of the season approaches. Potential abounds at nearly every position while exactly who will fill out each position remains somewhat uncertain.

Senior Javon Darden has slid from inside to outside linebacker in a unit that must replace Brandon Williams and Greg Simms who were lost to graduation. Douglas Ashford is expected to guide the defensive line, while Days will command the secondary from his safety position.

The Warriors demonstrated a knack for forcing turnovers at pivotal moments last season, a characteristic Williams attributes to a strip drill done with diligence during practice. Dashon Brown's 73-yard interception return for a touchdown against Triton a year ago capped a thrilling, 21-14 comeback win. Eastern Wayne trailed 14-0 after the first quarter.

"I think we've got guys in position to be good," said Williams. "I think the thing for them is when are they going to be that? You really don't know until you play. We work the strip drill a lot and have that in practice in a period every day. Hopefully we will have some guys that will make some plays."

The Warriors started 1-2 and reeled off six consecutive wins a year ago. The season ended with a 22-14 home loss to Southern Vance in opening-round play of the N.C. High School Athletic Association playoffs. Williams' team was denied its first postseason victory since 1978.

Erasing the sting of last season's deflating playoff defeat, while proving wrong the growing list of doubters is something the Warriors hope the right mix of youth and experience can turn into a reality.

"We've got to finish at practice," said Clark. "Sometimes last year we would slack off at practice and it killed us in the playoffs. We had great talent and we shouldn't have lost in the first round. It was a heartbreaker.

"We've got to work hard in practice so that doesn't happen again."

Eastern Wayne opens the season Friday at Wilson Hunt.