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Preseason polls try to predict outcomes

080819-EPC coaches

Head football coaches in the 2-A Eastern Plains Conference pose after media day. (From left): Mike Barnett, North Johnston; Greg Watford, North Pitt; Chris Lee, Nash Central; J.C. Cobb, SouthWest Edgecombe and Carl Smith Jr., Beddingfield (Not pictured: Eddie Rhodes, Farmville Central).

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By Jake Keator
The Daily Reflector

Thursday, August 8, 2019

A preseason poll is, in essence, a shot in the dark.

Coaches vote for who they believe will claim a conference title at the end of this football season, with little information outside of what they know of their own squad.

Regardless, a preseason poll creates a fun and exciting benchmark as the high school football season inches closer. Ayden-Grifton, Greene Central, North Pitt and Farmville Central have all participated in their conference media days, which means they have seen how their peers expect them to stack up.

Teams receive points based on where they are picked to finish by their fellow coaches. Coaches are not allowed to vote for their own team.

In the 2-A Eastern Carolina Conference, defending champion Kinston is the preseason favorite but not a runaway favorite in totaling 32 points and three first-place votes. Ayden-Grifton was a close second with 30 points and one first-place nod.

West Craven took third (29 points, two first-place votes), followed by Washington (23, one for first place), Greene Central (15), South Lenoir (10) and North Lenoir (eight), according to a report by Neuse News.

GC running back Knowledge Branch was voted preseason offensive player of the year, while A-G running back Michael Webb finished second. Webb's teammate and first-year starting quarterback, Josh Wright, finished tied for third with Trent Casey of West Craven.

Ayden-Grifton and West Craven also shared players in defensive player of the year voting, with A-G linebacker J.C. Darden tying with Tyquan Kearney of West Craven and his teammate Michael Webb for first. Rams' nose guard Greg Daniels was fourth.

It was a different story for Pitt County's teams in the 2-A Eastern Plains Conference media day event Wednesday morning at Farmville Central, as the North Pitt Panthers and the Jaguars finished fifth and sixth, respectively, in preseason voting.

Defending champion SouthWest Edgecombe was voted as the unanimous favorite to repeat as champion, followed by a tie between Beddingfield and Nash Central, and then North Johnston, NP and FC.

Both the Jaguars and Panthers are undergoing rebuilds, but the Jaguars will be under new leadership this season as it brings on longtime area coach Eddie Rhodes to replace former head coach Scott Gardner. Gardner retired during the offseason.

Rhodes, who is entering his 39th year in coaching, will be one of three new coaches in the EPC.

"We're looking for improvement," Rhodes said of his expectations. "We have to change the culture here. The last few years it has been tough on Farmville Central football. We're hoping that we can change that. We're just looking to make some strides (this season)."

North Pitt coach Greg Watford is entering his second season in Bethel. The Panthers went 1-10 last season, finishing fifth in the conference.

"We're excited (for the season)," Watford said. "The kids have bought in, and we have some renovations that they are in charge of. When I say renovations I mean we are painting the locker room, sprucing up our field area and we've taken on the task of keeping the stadium area clean, just a lot of little tasks."

Watford, Rhodes and their peers agreed that once again the 2-A EPC will be an extremely physical conference.

"(The conference) isn't pretty?" Watford joked. "I like the blood and guts on the football field."

First-year North Johnston coach Mike Barnett agreed.

"This is the perfect conference for me," he said. "I'm an old-school football guy. We've got triple option, power-out and wing-T (offenses). If you come out and like to see the ball thrown a lot you won't like this conference. We're going to smash you in the mouth in three yards with a cloud of dust."

The 3-A/4-A Eastern Carolina Conference, which includes rivals South Central, D.H. Conley and J.H. Rose, will hold its media day Monday at Parker's Barbecue.

Contact Jake Keator at jkeator@reflector.com, 252-329-9594 and follow @JakeKeatorDR on Twitter.

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