08/08/13 — ECC 2-A preason football poll: Chargers picked to rule new league

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ECC 2-A preason football poll: Chargers picked to rule new league

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on August 8, 2013 1:50 PM


KINSTON -- Geographically compact, the Eastern Carolina 2-A Conference promises to provide entertainment among its fan base this season.

Old rivalries get renewed.

Old friendships are rekindled.

And folks from communities in Pitt, Greene, Lenoir and Wayne counties won't have to travel far to see their favorite team play.

"I think I'm excited most by the fact we're all close by, there will be a lot of natural rivalries, shorter travel (and) I think everybody is excited about that," Ayden-Grifton head coach Paul Cornwell said. "(There are) good relationships already with a lot of the coaches and programs, so from that standpoint it's going to be an easy transition."

It's also going to be a three-horse race for the inaugural ECC crown.

Coaches picked Cornwell's talent-loaded squad to emerge as the regular-season champion. The Chargers garnered 23 points and three first-place votes in balloting conducted by the Goldsboro News-Argus and Kinston Free Press on Wednesday afternoon.

Goldsboro and Kinston are expected to tie for second. The Cougars drew two first-place nods, while the Vikings earned one first-place vote. Greene Central (12 points), North Lenoir (9) and South Lenoir (6) rounded out the six-team league.

Ayden-Grifton returns 16 starters off last year's team that finished second behind Goldsboro during their final campaign in the Carolina 1-A Conference. The Chargers and Cougars combined to win 36 of 40 league contests with the losses coming between themselves.

"I think we've got a lot of work to do," Cornwell said. "I think moving up from 1-A to 2-A and still having 1-A numbers, you hope the numbers don't catch up with you eventually. We've got a good group of kids and we're excited about the season."

Graduation depleted the Cougars, who claimed their third Carolina crown during their four-year stay on the 1-A scene.

Just six starters return, including 1,000-yard rusher Rasheid Malette.

"Evidently, they don't know what we're working with (this season), but it's flattering to be chosen by your peers with that type of ranking," GHS head coach Eric Reid said. "We're just hoping to compete being as young as we are, and trying to fill the voids that was left (from graduation).

"We realize we're a work in progress. We hope that our non-conference schedule will help us mature a lot quicker, so once we hit conference we'll be able to compete on a high level."

The Cougars open the season at Franklinton, and will also line up against Jacksonville Northside and 4-A juggernaut Scotland County.

Ryan Gieselman hopes Kinston rises to the occasion. He lamented the loss of 19 seniors, in which 10 contributed on the field in some fashion last season. But Gieselman and his staff are working with 16 lettermen, including 12 returning starters, in camp before their season opener at Jones Senior on Aug. 23.

The runner-up projection doesn't seem so far-fetched.

"Picked second? A pretty bold prediction," Gieselman said. "It's going to be about how you finish. We'll see how the season plays out."

Greene Central concluded its 2012 campaign with nine consecutive losses, which led to the ousting of Ken Grantham. Former North Pitt assistant Allen Wooten replaced Grantham, who is now latest head coach to enter the revolving door at South Lenoir.

Wooten has 25 experienced seniors on the roster and some players who returned re-energized after a year's absence from football. He anticipates those intangibles will help turn around a program that last made a postseason appearance in 2008.

"It's going to be competitive every week (in the ECC)," Wooten said. "You've got rivalries all over the place. We're going to try to get better every week. That's our goal and the wins will fall where they may.

"We'd love to go from worst to first."

Sixteen starters departed North Lenoir at graduation and five rising seniors moved during the offseason. The significant losses leave fifth-year head coach and alum Calvin Sutton wondering how he's going to restock the cupboard this season.

Despite the losses, Sutton expects the Hawks expect to be more competitive after a four-year tour in the Eastern Carolina 3-A Conference.

"(Losing players) is going to force you to play some young guys a little earlier than you expected," Sutton said. "It's a new year ... new challenges. You're going to play with what you've got and that's what we're going to do."

Grantham takes over a Blue Devil program that experienced one victory in 11 tries a year ago. South Lenoir hasn't logged a winning season since 2009 and has compiled a 36-66 worksheet overall on the gridiron since 2004.