NCC coaches cautiously optimistic

Published 12:11 pm Wednesday, July 20, 2011

ELIZABETH CITY – Anticipation.

As that old sixties ballad says, it’s ‘making me wait’; which is what it’ll be for those anxious for the 2011 high school football season to begin.

The season will start a week from Saturday (July 30) with the first scrimmage allowed coming 10 days later (August 9) and the first playing date will be on August 19.

The 10 or 11 week North Carolina High School Athletic Association schedule, depending on how many games a school will play and with an off-week allowed, runs until the playoffs begin November 4 with a state champion crowned December 3.

Last Wednesday at Northeastern High School in Elizabeth City, the 2-A/3-A Northeastern Coastal Conference held it’s summer meeting for all sports with all seven schools represented including Bertie and Hertford County.

Of all the fall sports football garnered much of the attention.  Topics discussed at the meet included everything from game film exchange criteria to voting for All-Conference teams.

Away from their meetings, all the coaches were extremely cautious in making any pre-season predictions.

No coach, save one, wanted to say where their team might finish in the 2011 conference race.

Gone are the days when coaches like the late Roy Bond predicted not only a conference crown, but in 1995 boldly, and correctly, said his Bertie Falcons would win the state championship.

The most optimism came from last year’s 2-AA Eastern champion, Northeastern, which finished the year, 13-3, and hope to better that mark.

The Eagles stumbled out of the gate, losing their first two contests before reeling off 13 wins in a row, including going undefeated in the NCC.

However, after all that success, they were blanked in the state title tilt, 30-0, by Salisbury.

“It’s just motivation,” said Eagles coach Antonio Moore, whose team lost 16 seniors and will welcome back 29 lettermen, but only a dozen starters with eight of those on defense.

“We’ll be young, but enthusiastic,” he added, “because by being on last year’s team they now believe they can win.  We won’t change anything from what we were last year, we’ll just do what we do as well as we can and be successful.”

Moore will have two-way player Kareem Felton at quarterback.  Felton was team MVP in last year’s state championship and one of his favorite targets will be receiver Marquise Whedbee, up from the junior varsity.

On defense, Daniel Hill and his dozen sacks returns at linebacker.  Meanwhile, defensive back Jaquan Shaw had ten sacks last year, and on the other side, safety McKenzie Etheridge had a pair of interceptions in the state championship game.

“I’m not saying we’ll win the conference,” Moore said with a sly smile, “but I want them to believe they can.”

Hancel Phipps begins his second season at the helm of a Pasquotank team that surprised a few folk in 2010 with their 3-3 league record. They then shocked Carrboro with a first round home playoff win before the Panthers succumbed to eventual 2-A state champ, Tarboro.

“We’ll be better than last year,” said Phipps, whose team lost a heartbreaker on the road to Gates County, 41-36, a year ago, but this year will host the Red Barons.  “Probably somewhere like fourth place because we’ve got a lot of kids who aren’t yet used to winning.”

The Panthers will be a senior-ladened team with the likes of Kyle Odom at quarterback and Jaquan Respess in the backfield.  On defense, Trey Griffin and Earl Boone anchor a linebacking corps.

“Everyone wants to know when are we going to do as well as our neighbor (Northeastern),” he chuckled, “and I tell them while we’re not at that level we’re taking steps every day to get there,”

“Too many things can happen before conference play,” said cautious second-year Edenton coach Wes Mattera, “so I won’t make a prediction.

“Besides,” he added with a grin, “it creates expectation.”

The Aces are calling on tradition in the pre-season.  Former Chowan and Virginia Tech star, Robert Brown, has been in to address the team.

Brown, who played professionally with the Green Bay Packers is also reaching out to other alums like Zach Valentine (ECU/Dallas Cowboys) and Wes Chesson (Duke) to help upgrade the facilities like the weight-room.

“A lot of local teams including Camden and South Creek will come in for our first scrimmage,” said Mattera. “Then the following week we’ll scrimmage (defending state champ) Tarboro before our opener against a new school, Corinth Holders, of Johnston County.”

Receiver Brandon Goodwin and lineman Javonte Sutton stand out on offense, while the defense boasts backfield bookends, T.J. Cofield and Jabazz Long at corner.

First Flight coach Jim Prince was unable to attend the pre-season rouser, but third-year Currituck coach Wheeler said through a couple of his assistants that he is aiming for a successful campaign.

“We just have to compete every week,” he said by telephone, “and take our games one week at a time.

Dustin Midgette leads the Knights at quarterback with Marquis Grizzle solid at fullback.  Troy Smith at nose guard anchors the defense with Shane Gubbs at linebacker.