Hunt is the choice of the Big East's coaches
August 15, 2012North Carolina
By Paul Durham, Wilson Times
After going 14-1 in the past three years of 3-A Big East Conference play, Hunt High figured to be the choice by league varsity football coaches in their preseason poll to rule the conference again.
The Warriors, however, did not garner all the possible first-place votes in the informal poll conducted by Wes Bradshaw and Edward Green of WHIG-TV Channel 17 in Rocky Mount and Charles Alston. Coaches were not allowed to vote for their team and Warriors head coach Randy Raper indicated his first-place vote went to 2012 runner-up Nash Central, which came in second. Southern Nash, the only team to defeat Hunt in three seasons, received the other first-place vote but the Firebirds were picked to finish fourth behind Fike at No. 3. Rocky Mount, in the cellar last season, and Northern Nash finished tied for fifth.
“It’s just a technicality,” Raper said of getting the top spot. “We know over here all the Nash County schools pretty much are going to try to put that bull’s-eye on our back.”
But then Raper added: “It speaks volumes about our team and coaching staff and we’re going to try to live up to it.”
Hunt is coming off a 13-1 season, its third straight Big East title (shared with Northern Nash in 2010) and second straight trip to the N.C. High School Athletic Association 3-AA Eastern championship game. But, as in the past three seasons, Raper doesn’t expect another Big East crown to come easy.
The Warriors pulled out a last-minute 31-27 win over the Firebirds and clipped Nash Central 23-21 in the regular-season on a blocked field goal in the final seconds.
“It don’t matter how good you are or how good you think you are, you’ve got to have some breaks,” Raper said.
And Big East parity is a popular notion again.
“Our league is probably going to be tighter this year than any point in time,” he said, a sentiment shared by Fike head coach Tom Nelson and Southern Nash head coach Brian Foster.
“I don’t think there’s a whole lot of difference between any of us,” Foster said. “Look at Fike last year, they were right there, just lost a couple of close games.”
The Golden Demons, in Nelson’s first year as head coach, went 3-2 in Big East games (4-7 overall) and were in the fight for the conference title until the final week of the regular season, when they lost to Hunt 28-14 and finished third.
The Demons’ signature win was a 34-28 overtime upset of previously unbeaten Southern Nash in the conference opener. Fike’s ascension served as an indication league coaches were correct when they asserted prior to the 2011 season that any Big East game would be a tough one.
This season figures to be the same.
“Hunt will be picked to finish first and then after that I think it’s going to be interesting to see,” Nelson said. “Southern Nash has a lot to replace; Nash Central has a great quarterback to replace; Rocky Mount has a new coach; Northern Nash went through a down year last year, so it’s going to be interesting. I think every week’s going to be a dogfight.”
Southern Nash (7-4, 2-3 Big East) must overcome the loss of its top three running backs in 2011: Tracey Coppedge, Terron Huffman and Sextus Vane. The Firebirds are strong on the offensive and defensive lines and junior quarterback Deon Lavender has started since his freshman season.
Nash Central (9-3, 4-1) lost three-year starter Jalen Hendricks at quarterback and head coach Kevin Crudup will attempt to replace him with junior Khalil Macklin. The speedy junior was an all-conference running back last season, dashing for 930 yards and nine touchdowns on just 110 carries.
The Bulldogs also return senior twins Jarod and Jarius Richardson, along with senior placekicker Zach Conner, who nailed 45 extra-point kicks and five field goals.
Northern Nash (2-8, 1-4) dropped off after sharing the Big East crown with Hunt in 2010. But the Knights of head coach Mickey Crouch return senior defensive back Dequavais Mann, who has verbally committed to Duke University, and senior quarterback Marquez Farmer, who was All-Big East last season.
Rocky Mount (3-6, 0-5) has a new coach in Jason Battle, who replaced Dickie Schock after two seasons. The Gryphons have one of the top returning rushers in Mason Hines, who ran for 1,314 yards and 12 TDs in 2011 along with a cast of potentially dangerous performers.
Battle will bring the wing-T offense back after Rocky Mount ran the single wing under Schock.
“I don’t know what they’re running over there or what they have replaced over there, I do know that, year in and year out, Rocky Mount has a bunch of athletes,” Nelson insisted. “And I don’t think that’s going to change.”
What also hasn’t changed is the Big East’s reputation as one of the top 3-A conferences in the state. The league has put a team in the 3-AA Eastern final the past three seasons, with Southern Nash in 2009 preceding Hunt’s two-year run.
“I think there are three or four teams here that could make it to the Eastern championship,” Foster said. “It’s just a matter of who gets hot at the right time, who stays healthy and who wins those close games.”
2012 Big East Coaches' Preseason Football Poll
(Points awarded: 5 - 1st, 4 - 2nd, 3 - 3rd, etc. Coaches were not allowed to vote for their own teams)
1. Wilson Hunt (4) 23 pts. (4 first place votes, 1 third)
2. Nash Central (1) 20 pts. ((1 first place vote, 3 second, 1 third)
3. Wilson Fike 17 pts. (3 seconds, 1 third, 1 fourth)
4. Southern Nash (1) 16 pts. (1 first place, 3 third, 1 fourth)
T5. Northern Nash 7 pts. (2 fourth, 3 fifth)
T5. Rocky Mount 7 pts. (2 fourth, 3 fifth)