Friday night frenzy

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 16, 2004

Can you feel it in the air?

Naw, not the humidity, compliments of this latest rash of tropical storms. Nope, not the heat, thanks to a blazing mid-August sun.

The &uot;feel&uot; is Friday night football – the best game, of any type, around.

There’s something special about high school football. Maybe it’s the fact that these young men play just once a week. The build-up prior to each gridiron contest is intense. The passion for participation, and for watching for that matter, is so thick that you can cut it with a knife.

Think about it. In basketball, baseball, baseball, soccer, etc, the participants have more than one chance per week to play. That means if they lose a game, they quickly have a chance to redeem themselves.

That’s not the case in football. A loss leaves an empty feeling for an entire week. These young men have to wait a full seven days to prove to their loyal fans, as well as their classmates, that they aren’t losers. If they win, they still have a week to wait in order to prove they can do it again.

By the time the air turns crisp and the leaves begin to turn into the beautiful colors of fall, football fans are in a complete frenzy. We hang on each and every printed word and listen intently to the pigskin hype on our favorite radio stations. If one of our favorite players suffers an injury, it’s like a member of your immediate family has taken ill.

And, of course, there’s nothing better during football season than spending six delicious days second-guessing coaching decisions. If you had my job, you would quickly learn through all the telephone calls and discussions out on the street that everyone is a football coach. I’ve never understood how an average fan, who attends a two-hour football game on one night a week, can make better decisions that the men who spend nearly every waking second trying their best to prepare a successful game plan.

But enough about the hype of this nature. Let’s get down to the real nuts and bolts – how will our local teams fair this season. That’s the question on everyone’s lips and here’s one veteran sports reporter’s take on the local prep football season for 2004.

I’m starting with Hertford County, not because they are located right here in Ahoskie, but because I feel they have a real chance to make some viable noise this season. There’s a new &uot;sheriff&uot; in town by the name of Greg Watford and as a native and as a former Daryl Allen pupil, I feel the Bears are in good hands.

I know HCHS is the defending Northeastern Coastal champion, but there was something that just didn’t click with last year’s team. It was like watching Jeff Gordon’s powerful Dupont Chevy limp around the track on just seven cylinders. With all the talent that HCHS had last season, they should have performed at a higher level of intensity. It just wasn’t there, but with coach Watford at the helm, look for a much meaner band of Bears this year.

When successful football programs come to mind, Bertie’s has to be one of the first couple of ones mentioned. Like their rivals in Hertford County, the Falcons also have a new head coach – Willie Roberson. Willie and I go way back and I was happy that the Bertie brass chose my friend to replace the retiring Roy Bond.

With the likes of wide receiver Casey Owens, running back Michael Askew and lineman MacQuinton Vinson back for another season and with one of the best coaching staffs around, the Falcons have more than an average chance to win the league crown.

Over in Northampton County, the two high school squads have been heading in opposite directions over the past few years. While NCHS-West, under veteran skipper Diego Hasty, has ruled the gridiron roost, NCHS-East can’t seem to shake off a truckload of disappointing seasons.

I can’t figure out what’s wrong at East. It seems like Conway Middle School wins their league title every year in football, but when those kids arrive at East, it seems like a promising future turns into a nightmare.

I know the coaching staff can do the job. Their biggest challenge will be to get the kids to believe they’re not losers. Hopefully, a few quick wins right out of the starting gate will do the trick.

For coach Hasty and the Hurricanes, it looks as a rebuilding year. West is full of untested talent, but Diego has been around the block more than once in his long years of service to our young people and if anyone can get the best out of the talent a coach has, it’s Diego.

Across the Chowan River, coach Clark Harrell also sees a young squad. Quarterback A.J. Newsome returns, as do a handful of other 2003 starters, but the Red Barons remain a big question mark. On paper, Gates doesn’t appear as big as they’ve been in the past, but coach Harrell boasted that he might have the best overall team speed he’s ever had at Gates. If that’s true, then maybe Harrell will use the tried-and-true football saying – &uot;if you can’t run over them, run around them.&uot;

That leaves us with the two local independent schools that field football teams – Lawrence and Northeast.

Lawrence skipper Alan Spencer swears up and down that the Warriors will be as good as last year, despite the fact that the club graduated perhaps one of the best offensive lines I’ve ever seen play at the eight-man level. The Warriors will be young in the trenches this season, but all it will take is just a small seam for runners like Daniel Waters and Chad Simmons, both returning starters, to slice their way through. If that young line jells quicker than expected, look for another great year for Spencer’s bunch.

Coming off a winless campaign in 2003, there’s really nowhere to go but up for Northeast Academy. A new coach – Skip Cook – is in place and the Eagles do have an abundance of returning talent. Could this be the year that Northeast finally makes the state play-offs?

Stay tune, sports fans, for the answer to that question and many others as the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald kicks-off its annual high school gridiron coverage on Thursday with our yearly football preview special edition. And make sure to get all the scores and game highlights in Saturday morning’s edition as once again we will satisfy the raving appetites of local fans with next day coverage of Friday night football.

Can you feel it in the air?