FOOTBALL TAB - Talented Tigers return to the Carolina 1A Conference
By Ryan Hanchett
Published in Sports on August 22, 2013 1:47 PM
WARSAW -- All good things must come to an end, particularly James Kenan's four-year run through the Tri-County 1-A Conference.
With a new slate of opponents and a new focus on consistency, the Tigers expect to continue their tradition of winning as they return to the Carolina 1-A Conference. A team loaded with experienced skill players and talented newcomers, the Tigers are favored to win the regular-season crown.
Expectations beyond league titles are also swirling at Bill Taylor Field.
"I think our kids know that we kind of have a target on our backs," James Kenan head coach Ken Avent Jr. said. "Every night that we go out there the other team is going to do everything they can to beat us. We have to be ready every play of every game."
James Kenan's hype machine is largely built on a track record of success -- a 95-27 overall record since 2004 that includes back-to-back trips to the N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 1-AA (large-school) state finals. The Tigers were runner-up in 2006 and won it all in 2007.
Avent Jr.'s teams have been to at least the second round of the playoffs in each of the past 10 seasons. Kenan lost to eventual state champion Southwest Onslow in the regional final a year ago.
"We had a good year last year and I think we played the way we are capable," Avent Jr. said. "Your record from last season doesn't mean much now and I think the guys understand that this year is not going to be easy. "
James Kenan's schedule certainly does not look easy.
The Tigers open the season with 3-A opponent Southern Wayne in a game that has become one to watch since the teams renewed their rivalry in 2011. Archrival and perennial 1-A power Wallace-Rose Hill waits in week two prior to a pair of road games at Union High School and East Duplin.
The Carolina 1-A Conference schedule features a pair of games against former TCC rivals Lakewood and Hobbton as well as visits from North Duplin and Princeton. The Bulldogs reached the 1-A eastern final in 2012.
"We are definitely going to see how we stack up early on," Avent Jr. said. "We had a scrimmage against Douglas Byrd and went to a jamboree that featured Bunn, North Johnston and Charles B. Aycock so we feel like we have seen some quality teams in the preseason. Hopefully that has prepared us for when the lights come on for real."
The Tigers have a wealth of talent at the skill positions.
Tailback Marcelias Sutton returns for his senior season just weeks after verbally committing to N.C. State. Sutton ran for 1,771 yards and 17 touchdowns, and caught six passes -- four for touchdowns -- during his junior year.
Sutton opened the eyes of several college coaches with his impressive numbers and sealed the deal to play at the next level with a brilliant performance at the Wolfpack's annual prospect camp.
"Marcelias is obviously a really good player and he deserves all the attention that he gets," Avent Jr. said. "We expect him to be a leader for us, but if teams focus solely on (Sutton) I think we have some guys who can make them regret it."
The Tigers' second leading rusher from 2012 is also back in the fold. Ja'Quan Williams ran for 1,064 yards and 10 touchdowns as a sophomore. Center Dominique Barnes has a year of experience under his belt in Avent Jr.'s triple-option offense.
While the Tigers' bread-and-butter will no doubt their ground attack, Barnes' work in the passing game during the offseason has impressed the coaches.
"I think we are going to be able to throw it a little more this season," Avent Jr. said. "Especially early in the year we want to see how our passing game looks. Dominique threw the ball well in our scrimmages and he is ready to take the next step."
The key to a fast start in Warsaw will likely be finding the right combinations along the offensive and defensive lines. Standouts Reginald Tyler and Jaylan Williams each left a void on the offensive front. Michael Melendez and Dexter Brinson are gone from the defensive line.
"We lost three key players on the front of the defense," Avent Jr. said. "That is a priority for us over the last couple days of practice, to find guys who can start at those positions as well as guys who can provide depth should we need it."
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