ELIZABETH CITY - It’s the time of year when everyone is undefeated and anyone can be a state champion.
August 1 was the date the N.C. High School Athletic Association officially allows pre-season practice to begin for football. And, local Elizabeth City State University radio WRVS 89.9/W18BBtv sponsored their annual Football Media Day for the seventh straight year. This year’s event was held once again at the K.E. White Center on the ECSU campus.
Ten local high school football coaches from the 1A Four Rivers Conference and the 2A/3A Northeastern Coastal Conference with several of their players were in attendance. This group included South Creek’s Greg Watford, John A. Holmes Coach Paul Hoggard and new Perquimans’ skipper Ian Rapanick.
When Greg Watford walked off the field last November following his North Pitt Panthers’ loss to Edenton, many felt he too would ease into retirement. Instead, he’s back at Robersonville’s South Creek hoping to resuscitate a program that went winless (0-11) in 2021.
“(Assistant) Coach Grissett actually got things started while I was debating coming out of retirement, and being from eastern North Carolina I knew of the town’s tradition (state championship game in ‘74 & ‘75) and they’ve had long-range success going way back,” Watford stated. “Last year was an anomaly with so much going on, but the kids hung in and they persevered. We’re coming in hitting the ground running and going for things that will give us the best opportunity to win.
“These are as positive a group of young men as I’ve ever run into,” he added. “I knew the level of talent and the opportunity to be in a situation where from day-one we could all be out there and have some fun. We’re going to try to get it back to where it was, and these kids have bought in. We’re going to put our-11 out there on day-one against their-11 and we’re going to give it our best shot.”
“We’ve got athletic kids,” chimed in Grissett. “It’s a case of putting it all down and playing in the fourth quarter like the score was 0-0.”
“I don’t want our kids to believe that last year was their reality, because it wasn’t,” Watford emphasized. “To be candid, we have an opportunity to be good. But we know how good this conference is, and to truly compete against them, we’ve got to beat them.”
The Cougars’ first game will be Aug. 19 at home versus Bear Grass Charter.
“It’s been a different off-season for sure,” said Holmes coach Paul Hoggard, who retired last December, only to return in a coaching capacity July 1. “I come back into the weight room off of the dead period and the kids are looking better and stronger than they’ve ever been so maybe I should have stayed gone. Seriously, it was awesome to get back into it and being around the kids.”
Holmes (8-3 in 2021) lost seniors quarterback Landen Hoggard and his top receiving target Tysheim Harris, along with running back Malachi White. But they return a solid corps of 2023 players on both sides of the football.
“We’re not a long-term goal-setting team,” Hoggard explained. “We want to win the day, getting a little bit better every day because doing the little things gets you closer to where you want to be. We’ll be thin up front (linemen), we’re not very deep; and we’re going to have to stay healthy. We’ve got some decent skill kids, but they’re going to have to play both ways.”
Because of their youth and inexperience, the Aces are not ranked in pre-season and that suits the players just fine.
“We’re not really about respect,” said WR/DB D.J. Capehart. “We really don’t care because it’s about knowing what to do when the time comes.”
“He said it all,” echoed RB/LB Jimbo Parrish. “We don’t worry about the ranking, we’re just going to work hard.”
Holmes has an open date Aug. 26 before their first game (Sept.2) at home against Bertie.
“We’ll definitely win that first (open) week,” joked Hoggard. “And we’ll be fired up when it’s time to play.”
Ian Rapanick is back for a second stint as Perquimans coach after being away from the area for a time. He inherits a team that went 8-3 a season ago and included an upset 38-26 win over favored Riverside in the second round of the playoffs.
“I’ve been back since March and I’d viewed a lot of film from last year so that helped, and we knew who we could count on this season,” said Rapanick. “So when spring rolled around a lot of guys ran track and that was good because for football we were able to focus on a lot of younger guys.
“The biggest thing we want to do is play for each other,” he continued. “Perquimans has always had the pieces so when you play for each other you kind of get beyond the whole playing hard thing. You don’t want to let your teammate down.”
“I’ve worked on working out in the off-season,”said running back Kirk Brown. “I want to be prepared mentally and physically when we begin.”
“I’ve worked on being a leader, being better physically and vocally, along with weight room and conditioning” noted quarterback Braylon Knapp.
“Kirk and I ran track last season and we competed at the state level, so I think we’ll be better this season,” added linebacker Malik Bosser.
Track wasn’t the only place the Pirates excelled at the state level. The volleyball team made it to the finals and the baseball team defended their 1A state championship. Rapanick wants to use that as motivation in football.
“Our (administrators) are the right people in the right place for us to help us sustain that,” the coach says. “They have tradition which we don’t have, so we take things from that: coaching is coaching and culture is culture. We all take things from it, but to sustain it, we’re primed and ready to add to that like every other sport in the building is doing.”
Perquimans opens at home on Aug. 19 against Manteo.