08/08/12 — ECC coaches give league predicitions

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ECC coaches give league predicitions

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on August 8, 2012 1:49 PM

Triton expects to take every opponent's best shot since it's won the last two Eastern Carolina 3-A Conference football championships.

Cleveland can't run and hide, either.

Coaches unanimously predicted the Rams to capture the 2012 title after third-year head coach Marc Morris guided the team to an appearance in the N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 3-A (small-school) eastern final last fall. Cleveland received six first-place votes (36 points) during the preseason kickoff luncheon held Monday afternoon at Wilber's Barbecue.

Triton, picked second, collected five first-place votes and 31 points. Eastern Wayne and South Johnston shared third place with 22 points apiece. Southern Wayne, which last won an ECC crown in 2007, was tabbed fourth with 18 points.

Charles B. Aycock (11 points) and North Lenoir (7) rounded out the seven-team league.

More than 140 players participated in summer workouts at Cleveland, which will graduate its first senior class in 2013. The Rams return 21 starters, including Austin Jacobs, who was named the ECC defensive player-of-the-year in 2011.

"It's been fun to watch them mature as young men, get better on and off the field," Morris said. "They understand what it takes to be good. I don't think they take anything for granted. They understand how hard they have to work and how fortunate we were to get to the point we got to last year."

The Hawks return 14 starters and lost just one offensive performer off last year's squad. Two-way starter Dedrick Stacker rushed 1,600-plus yards and 25 touchdowns on his way to winning the ECC offensive player-of-the-year award in 2011.

Maurice McBryde is back to direct Triton's misdirection scheme. Six-foot-5, 270-pound senior Jesse Brewer anchors the offensive line.

Ashley Ennis, who guided the Hawks' JV program, took over as head coach during the offseason.

"I think the conference is going to be better, stronger," Ennis said. "I think Cleveland is definitely the team to beat. Ain't nobody going to overlook them, either. We might have the bulls-eye, but they've got a bulls-eye, too ... not sneaking around, I don't care what Marc says.

"We told the guys that everybody will be gunning to take us down, so we need to be prepared to get everybody's best game (on Friday nights). We're going to build on the foundation of success that (former) Coach (Joe) McCullen brought to Triton High School."

Eastern Wayne, the ECC tri-champion two seasons ago, garnered one second-place vote and three third-place votes. The Warriors return a solid defensive unit, but have questions offensively that third-year head coach Bubba Williams hopes to answer during scrimmages this week.

South Johnston has to rebuild -- or reload, ECC coaches said -- this season. The Trojans return just one offensive starter and seven defensive performers from a year ago, and expect to be one of the five teams behind Triton and Cleveland fighting for the league's third automatic playoff berth.

Southern Wayne graduated 20-plus seniors from a year ago. The Saints reeled off four consecutive wins to start their 2011 campaign, but finished 6-5 after falling in the opening round of the NCHSAA 3-A (small-school) playoffs.

"We are just looking to go out and compete every game, get better every game starting with our non-conference schedule," second-year head coach David Lee said. "Our non-conference games will go a long way in deciding where we finish in the conference. We're young and replaced most of the offensive line, which will be a big key for us depending on how fast they come along."

Aycock looks to improve on a two-win season in 2011.

All-ECC selection Austin Snowden returns at quarterback and AJ Mundle, who has fully recovered from ACL injury, is finally back in camp.

"We have a little more experienced group this year," Golden Falcons head coach Randy Pinkowski said. "If we stay healthy, I think I can play up there with the top teams in the league."

North Lenoir brings back 13 starters off last year's team, which logged a 1-10 worksheet. Head coach Calvin Sutton continues to contend with off-the-field problems that seem to surface each preseason.

But the Hawks do have a good nucleus of players that include certain all-ECC performers Reggie Rouse, tight end Billy Summers and special teams standout Caleb Baird.