08/07/13 — ECC 3-A/4-A poll: Wayne County schools picked near bottom of seven-team football league

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ECC 3-A/4-A poll: Wayne County schools picked near bottom of seven-team football league

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on August 7, 2013 1:47 PM


GREENVILLE -- Welcome to the SEC.

Well ... sort of.

Stacked with two tradition-rich programs that have combined to win six state championships, the newly-aligned Eastern Carolina 3-A/4-A football conference is unarguably one of the toughest leagues in the state.

Coaches projected New Bern, the 2012 Class 4-A title winner, to emerge as the conference's top team during a preseason rouser at Parker's BBQ on Tuesday afternoon. The Bears, who graduated a whopping 34 seniors, garnered six first-place votes and 36 total points.

J.H. Rose, which won four straight state crowns from 2003-06, earned one first-place vote and compiled 28 points. Fellow 4-A schools D.H. Conley (26 points) and South Central (21), ended up third and fourth, respectively.

Eastern Wayne led the 3-A portion of the seven-team parade with 16 points. County foes Charles B. Aycock and Southern Wayne collected 10 points apiece. The Warriors and Golden Falcons each received one third-place vote.

"The joke I've been making lately about where we're at is the 4-A schools, that's the SEC West and we're in the SEC East. We've just got to win the East and that's all we're concerned with," first-year CBA head coach Steve Brooks said.

New Bern finished 15-0 last season and has prevailed in 40 of its last 43 outings since 2010. The Bears have two state crowns in program history and have played for five championships overall since 2002.

"We've got a lot of new faces in there trying to get used to (having the target on their back)," New Bern head coach Bobby Curlings. "We've spent all summer coaching and preaching to them not to dwell on the past. They've got to write their own chapter. They've got to go out and earn (it). Whatever happens this year will be because of their hard work.

"We've had some guys step up and new leaders are emerging, so we're excited about that."

The Bears return one offensive lineman -- 6-foot-7, 320-pounder Shawn Best. Six starters are back on defense.

Rose looks to rebound from an uncharacteristic 3-7 campaign with first-year head coach Dave Wojtecki. Wojtecki welcomed 19 starters to the Rampants' preseason camp and feels blessed to have talented athletes on both sides of the ball.

"Hopefully that experience from last year to this year will transfer onto the field, and we'll be more hard to handle offensively and defensively," Wojtecki said.

D.H. Conley had never won eight games in a season until last year with veteran head coach Brian Paschal. The Vikings advanced to the second round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 3-A (small-school) playoffs in 2012.

The Vikings received four second-place nods on preseason ballots.

"We'll be thrilled to death just to get the season started with the offseason that we've had ... has been ridiculous," Paschal said. "I think everyone is excited about their teams, their programs and everybody has high expectations because you worked with them all summer.

"Maybe reality hits about week three when you find out what kind of team you really are."

South Central decided to employ younger players three years ago and head coach Tim Carter hopes to see the benefits of that highly-questioned philosophy this season. The Falcons return to the ECC after a four-year stint in the Coastal 3-A Conference.

Carter has 14 starters back from a year ago and looks to gain momentum from a JV program that has lost just five total games in the past three seasons combined.

"If those kids can come in what that confidence (from JV success) and be stout, take a lick, give a lick, we may have a chance," said Carter, who hails from Tallahassee, Fla. "It's physical and mental (vs. 4-A schools). You've got to want to hit somebody first. If you want to hit somebody after that, everything takes care of itself with God-given talent."

Eastern Wayne is loaded with skill-position players, but thin on linemen.

Head coach Bubba Williams, who has ties to New Bern, says his team will have to be creative to contend with the more-physical squads in the conference.

"I don't think the challenges are any more (than any other league)," Williams said. "You've got to line up and play who you have to play. It is what it is."

Aycock reeled off three consecutive wins and endured a season-ending, second-round loss in the NCHSAA 3-A (small-school) playoffs.

Helmets and sizes for shorts and T-shirts have been in high demand in the Golden Falcons' camp. Brooks might need to fill out a purchase order for more gear, but anticipates the 85 players who have practiced thus far may "thin out a little bit" in the coming weeks.

Southern Wayne is short on numbers, which creates depth problems and magnifies injuries. Should the Saints endure any significant losses, they're destined to repeat last year's 1-9 campaign.

"Everybody has got the athletes, but it's just the physical size of playing teams like New Bern and Conley and Rose and South Central," third-year SW head coach David Lee said. "You're just hoping you can go out there and compete, that your kids don't back down and at the end of the game you come out healthy.

"That's really what you hope to get out of that."