Coaches pick Cleveland to finish atop ECC
August 9, 2012North Carolina
By Natalie Sayewich, Wilson Times
GOLDSBORO — The majority of 3-A Eastern Carolina Conference football coaches aren’t so much concerned with putting points on the board this season as they are with keeping them off.
At the annual ECC coaches kickoff meeting Tuesday at Wilber’s Barbecue restaurant, coach after coach echoed similar concerns about their defense, while most agreed that conference games would continue to be mostly high-scoring events.
“The team that’s going to win is going to be the team that plays the best defense,” said Cleveland coach Marc Morris, who returns ECC Defensive Player of the Year lineman Austin Jacobs to pave the way for his defense.
“We’ll find a way to move the football,” C.B. Aycock head coach Randy Pinkowski said, “but we’ve got to get some stops this year.”
In their preseason poll, coaches unanimously chose Cleveland to finish atop the league standings, but agreed that 2011 ECC champion Triton — picked to finish second — could battle the Rams for league supremacy. Eastern Wayne and South Johnston tied for third in the coaches poll, followed by Southern Wayne, C.B. Aycock and North Lenoir, respectively.
Triton has a new coach at the helm in Ashley Ennis after veteran coach Joe McCullen retired from teaching and was informed by the school in the offseason that he would not be brought back as coach.
Ennis, an assistant for McCullen the last nine years, doesn’t intend to change much about the program and plans to stick with the wing-T offense that helped the Hawks to a 10-2 record and a second straight conference championship last season.
“I’m a Coach McCullen disciple,” Ennis said. “I’ve coached with Coach McCullen a long time and appreciate everything he did for me. I learned a lot of football from him so, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Triton returns what Ennis estimated to be “13 or 14” starters, including reigning ECC Player of the Year Dedrick Stacker, wingback and defensive back Brandon McLean and quarterback Maurice McBryde.
While Ennis is aware that being last year’s conference champion will give opposing teams extra motivation this season, Cleveland — which reached the 3-A Eastern finals in its first varsity season last fall — will garner the same, if not more attention.
“Cleveland is definitely the team to beat,” Ennis said. “We might have a bull’s-eye on us, but they’ve got a bull’s-eye too.”
Cleveland had no seniors last season and therefore returns nearly everyone, but Morris has already let go of any thoughts of his team’s 2011 success.
“One thing I’ve learned in high school sports, sometimes you get as much out of kids as sophomores and juniors as you do as seniors,” Morris said. “Kids have to understand that last year is last year. We’ve just hope we progress faster and do a little better as the season goes on.”
The coaches believe that despite the team order they scribbled hastily on the ballots handed to them, beyond the top two teams, the field is wide open.
“There’s a lot of great teams in this conference,” South Johnston coach Shane Dular said. “There’s a couple of schools that are really, really good, but you might flip a coin to see where everyone else is at.”
“There’s a lot of talent in this conference,” Ennis said. “I think it’s going to be a very competitive conference and I think it’s going to be fun to go on Friday nights to watch an ECC football game this season. I think everybody’s going to step their game up.”
Aycock, which went 2-8 last season and 1-5 in the ECC, scrimmages at Princeton tonight and will participate in Fike’s jamboree Friday evening. The Golden Falcons kick off the regular season at Rosewood on Aug. 17.