‘Grind to shine’

Published 12:14 pm Tuesday, August 1, 2017

ELIZABETH CITY – It was the answer that defined the 2017 High School Football Media Day here last Friday when a player was asked what the key to a successful football season was:

“You have to grind to shine,” replied Currituck County wide receiver David Foreman.

Hertford County High football coach Terrance Saxby fields a question at High School Football Media Day last Friday. The event, now in its third year, was held at Elizabeth City State University. | Staff Photos by Gene Motley

Area media members listened to football coaches and players from northeastern North Carolina – the 2A Northeastern Coastal Conference and the newly former Albemarle Athletic Conferences – discuss the upcoming season here at the Ridley Student Center at Elizabeth City State University.  The event was hosted by ECSU campus radio WRVS-FM, which broadcasts several prep games every season.

Monday, July 31 marked the first day schools could begin practice with first scrimmages beginning Aug. 9 and the season kicking off for several teams in less than three weeks (Aug. 18).

Unlike a season ago when there was a general agreement on who the top dogs were in each conference, this year there appears to be no consensus.

Following re-alignment by the North Carolina High School Athletic Association, two of last year’s state championship games participants are now in the same league.

Last season, defending 1A champ, Plymouth, who captured their seventh straight conference title, dating back to their time in the old 4-Rivers Conference, had a perfect 7-0 league mark en route to 12-4 overall, including a 15-14 loss to Murphy for the state championship. 

This season, the Vikes are part of the AAC with familiar foes Camden, Gates, Manteo, Perquimans, and new conference member, Edenton J.A. Holmes.  The Aces, 2AA state finalists a year ago, join the Albemarle from the 2A Northeastern Coastal Conference.

“There are teams here that have held it down for a while, and they’re not going to let just anybody come in here and run amok,” said Aces lineman Ky’Vaughan Rome. “We’re going to have to keep that success up.”

Gates County coach Matt Biggy (left) listens along with Red Baron players Jawan Riddick, Ron Olsen, and Demond Jones.

“Our players are very coachable,” said veteran Plymouth coach Robert Cody. “We lack size this year, but we plan to work hard to get better each week.

The Gates County Red Barons are also now in the AAC. Coach Matt Biggy’s squad finished third in the Coastal-10 last season after dropping three of their last four games.  Still, they had a seven-game win streak, made the playoffs and shocked Louisburg with a first-round post-season win before finishing 8-5.

“Our conference is just really good,” Biggy said. “If we’re sitting there in the end as one of the top teams in the conference then we could be looking at finishing the year with a conference championship.”

Gone is versatile two-way player Robert Walker, but Jawan Riddick returns and will begin his third year as starting quarterback. Ron Olsen and Demond Jones are expected to anchor the line on both sides of the ball.

Hertford County made it to the 2AA Eastern semi-finals before falling on the road to East Duplin.  For his fourth season, head Coach Terrance Saxby will have quarterback Lance Hunter, who says he feels no pressure, but thinks, despite 39 scores a season ago, that he can improve.

“Yeah, I think I can do better,” said the Bears’ senior signal-caller.

Hunter won’t have All-Conference standout Jaquarii Roberson to throw to this year, but Saxby says he expects Hunter to ‘air it out’ aplenty this fall.  He also hopes to have running back Kyeem Perry – who missed five games last year – back and healthy for the whole season.

“We make no pretense about it,” Saxby said. “We plan on throwing the football and if we don’t get the match-up we’re going to run it.  It’s real simple for me, we’re going to speed up the game and just go from there.”

Bertie coach Grantley Mizelle replies to a query as he begins his second year as head of the Falcons.

“We have great leaders on this team, and everybody has committed to working hard,” said Perry.

The best thing facing second-year Bertie Coach Grantley Mizelle is his team’s finish from a year ago – 3-2, with losses only to league co-champ, Edenton; and South Columbus in the playoffs.

“It was a tough year with all the injuries and two floods, but we had good momentum at the end of the year and now we’ve had a great off-season and this year we think we’re starting out ahead of the game,” Mizelle said.

“We’re not as big as we were, but we are strong,” he added. “Our leaders are starting to push people, and it’s just a different atmosphere already.  Now we’re getting good position work and we run everywhere; we don’t walk. We’re figuring out how to play the game the right way.”

Mizelle will have to replace quarterback Greg Williams, who had played for him since middle school, but he thinks with Isaiah Williams can emerge as the starter.

“We feel good with where we’re at,” he added. “And our defense is going to be really good. Our fans are starting to come back; they know we’re out there competing.”