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It’s been some 15 months for Tarboro football

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Tarboro's Melik Ward, right, celebrates with teammate Zion Brooks on Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018, during the closing seconds of the Vikings' 50-10 win over East Surry in NCHSAA 1-AA state championship game at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh.

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BY SAMUEL EVERS
Sports Writer

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Way before Tarboro High’s fifth state championship, which the team won in 2017, there was plenty of success for Jeff Craddock and his longtime assistants.

The Vikings won three straight 2-A titles from 2009 to 2011, but it seems fair to say their win on Dec. 9, 2017, over Mount Airy, kicked off the second leg of their modern championship-winning era.

Since that day — and this isn’t to say there wasn’t plenty to celebrate before that — the football program from the town of 11,000 people has lived a charmed life, with Sunday’s Super Bowl, where Todd Gurley will be on the field and Craddock will be in the stands, being a culmination of sorts.

Here’s a look at all of the major moments, milestones and memories since that win over Mount Airy 15 months ago.

Dec. 9, 2017: Tarboro wins its fifth state title

It was close for a few flashes, but the Vikings pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 32-7 win over the Granite Bears, earning their fifth state title and fourth under Jeff Craddock.

Jan. 6, 2018: Gurley, Rams play in first playoff game of the Sean McVay era

In 2017, Todd Gurley and the Los Angeles Rams had a surprising season, making the playoffs with an 11-5 regular season record. In Gurley’s postseason debut, however, his team fell to the Atlanta Falcons, 26-13.

Feb. 3, 2018: Gurley honored as league’s best on offense

Gurley’s bounceback from a down second-season finished with the Associated Press naming him Offensive Player of the Year. He finished with 1,305 yards rushing and 19 touchdowns overall, while also hauling in 788 receiving yards.

March 5, 2018: Tarboro players get their title rings

With Gurley at the ceremony at Edgecombe Community College but hiding away from the spotlight, the Tarboro Vikings received their championship rings from the win over Mount Airy.

“It’s almost like giving a nice gift for children at Christmas, and you can’t wait for them to open it up to see their reaction,” Craddock told the Telegram.

April 1, 2018: Former Viking Cofield signs with CFL team

Takoby Cofield, an offensive lineman for Duke from 2011-14 after graduating from Tarboro, signed his contract with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, and started 11 games during the 2018 season.

April 14, 2018: Gurley holds his second camp

Todd Gurley held his second free football camp at Tarboro High School, bringing along fellow NFLer Jameis Winston.

“Hopefully I’ll be able to do this every year so the kids can come out and enjoy themselves,” Gurley said.

April 24, 2018: Tyquan Lewis gets drafted

At his home in Pinetops, after four years playing for Craddock’s favorite college team in Ohio State, Lewis heard his name called as the last pick of the second round. The defensive lineman and former Tarboro player went 64th overall to the Indianapolis Colts.

July 24, 2018: Gurley signs lucrative contract

Gurley and the Rams agreed to a record contract worth a guaranteed $45 million, the largest in NFL history for a running back. The deal, which kicks in for the 2020 season, is over four years and could be worth up to $60 million.

Aug. 17, 2018: Tarboro’s season kicks off

With a definitive 49-6 victory over Washington, the Vikings won their 16th straight game and their first of the season, starting a 2019 campaign in which they’d score 794 points and allow only 62.

Nov. 11, 2018: Lewis debuts for Colts

After an injury delayed his rookie season, Lewis finally made his NFL debut against the Jacksonville Jaguars, on the birthday of his late great-grandmother. Lewis’ Colts made the playoffs and won their first game against the Houston Texans before coming up short against the Kansas City Chiefs.

In a regular season shutout against the Cowboys on Dec. 16, Lewis recorded the first and second sacks of his career.

Nov. 25, 2018: Draughn announces his NFL retirement

As Lewis’ career was just beginning, Shaun Draughn, the first player from Tarboro to make the NFL under Jeff Craddock, announced his retirement after six seasons and 57 games in the league. He finished his career with nine touchdowns.

Dec. 15, 2018: Tarboro wins fifth state title

The Vikings actually trailed at one point early in the first quarter, but exploded in the second half to topple East Surry, 50-10, for their second straight 1-AA state title and fifth overall with Craddock in charge.

With two rushing touchdowns, Kimani McDaniels was named the game’s MVP.

Jan. 9, 2019: Craddock is nominated for national award

When Craddock got the call alerting him of his nomination by the Carolina Panthers for the Don Shula NFL High School Coach of the Year Award, he thought it was a friend messing with him.

It was 100 percent real, though, and the Vikings coach got the news he’d be attending this year’s Pro Bowl with a chance to make it to Atlanta for the Super Bowl, as well.

Jan. 20, 2019: Rams squeak past New Orleans for spot in Super Bowl

No one play decides a game, goes the coaching cliche, but the missed pass interference call on a Saints receiver late in the NFC Championship game gave the Rams new life. After a Drew Brees interception in overtime, Greg Zuerlein nailed a 57-yard game-winning field goal to send Gurley and his team to the Super Bowl.

In the days following the game, many questioned Gurley’s lack of playing time in the second half, though signs leading up to the Super Bowl indicate he’ll be back as an important part of the offense against New England.

Jan. 27, 2019: Craddock named the national runner-up

During the Pro Bowl in Orlando, it was rainy and unseasonably cold, but that didn’t bother Craddock, who was warm and taken care of in a cozy suite.

After a vote decided by one point, Craddock was named the runner-up for the coach of the year award, meaning he would still be able to attend the Super Bowl and watch his star running back compete for a championship.

Feb. 3, 2019: The Super Bowl

When Gurley takes the field on Sunday against the Patriots, he’ll be just the second Tarboro Viking to ever play on such a stage, with Kelvin Bryant in the late 1980s being the first.

Perhaps he’ll benefit from a few extra words of encouragement from Craddock.

“Hollywood can’t write a script like this,” said Craddock this past Thursday.

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