A small senior class and relatively low overall numbers are doing nothing to dampen hopes as the North Edgecombe Warriors head down the homestretch to the 2014 football season.
With a pair of All-Two Rivers Conference honorees returning to the lineup, coach Keith Parisher and the Warriors are looking to improve on last year’s 5-6 mark that included a fourth-place league finish and loss in the first round of the NCHSAA 1-A state playoffs.
“We want to improve on that record,” Parisher said. “Our nonconference record was not bad last year. We just have to do better in conference play.
There are three little 1-A teams and three big 1-A teams in our conference. We beat the little ones and lost to the big ones.
When the regular season ends, we want to be in a position to make a run in the playoffs.”
Much of the hope for this season will rest on the shoulders of an offense that returns six starters – including two of the conference’s premier players.
Leading the charge is all-conference halfback Antwoine Pittman, who is back for his junior season after a 2013 campaign that included a team-leading 1,800 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns.
Senior Jarius Collins, another returning starter, will line up next to Pittman as the other halfback.
Also returning is quarterback Jacoby Bullock, who has shaken off some disciplinary problems from 2013 and appears ready to be the primer for the Warriors’ triple-option attack.
“The offense is two weeks ahead of where it was last year with him back because he knows how to run the system,” Parisher said. “He gained a lot of confidence from last season and has become a team leader.
“He helps the other backs – and the entire unit – get things right. He couldn’t have done that last year.”
While bolstered in having three of his four 2013 backfield starters returning, Parisher is quick to admit the team’s most gaping hole is at fullback, where a three-year starter was lost to graduation.
In fact, Parisher readily admitted offensive progress has been slowed because of working a new fullback into the fold.
However, the coach was quick to not assess any potential blame due to the fact that the two players vying for the fullback job are converted offensive linemen – Marquez Adkins and Quantellis Johnson.
The biggest thing any new fullback – and the entire backfield – has going for it this season is an experience offensive line with lots of heft.
Led by a trio of returning starters, the line will be anchored by returning all-conference star Trye’Quain Harris (6-foot-3, 325 pounds), who is moving from right tackle to right guard.
Other returnees joining Harris – who is a four-year starter – are junior Jaquel Knight, a three-year starter, at left guard, and Brian Gonzalez at left tackle.
Sophomore Quantavius Harrell moves up from junior varsity to take the center spot with a right tackle starter to be determined over the next week.
“The experience on the offensive line should help us,” Parisher said. “They know who to block and should really be able to open some holes for us.”
With plans of running 5-3 and 4-4 schemes on defense, the Warriors return only four starters.
As on offense, Harris will anchor the defensive front with Knight and Harrell to see plenty of playing time.
“Our defensive tackles have the most experience,” Parisher said. “We’re trying to work it to rest guys on defense, so there are two or three more players still working their way in.
“We’re looking for a quicker guy to offset Harris at tackle. We like to be able to go big or quick or a combination. We try to mix things up on the line.”
While inexperienced in the secondary, Parisher is not overly concerned because of talent and numbers available.
However, the linebacking corps and defensive ends are a different story.
“Those two areas are a big question mark,” Parisher said. “We lost all of them to graduation.”
With tight ends expected to man the defensive end spots, Parisher said Trayshan Whitaker and Treshon Johnson are penciled in starters at inside and outside linebacker, respectively.
Seeing his offense as this year’s strength and a defense the Warriors “need to work at,” Parisher said the overall team weakness is something that is no stranger.
“Our biggest problem will be depth,” said Parisher, whose roster currently sports only 22 names. “We usually add five or six guys when school starts. Once we get them, we’ll have a little more depth.
“But that (overall numbers) doesn’t bother me. I’ve been here a while and had to deal with it almost every year. We’re used to having to adjust to numbers. The biggest thing in dealing with it is conditioning.”
Despite only six seniors and a small roster, Parisher said prospects for this season are bright and hopes high based on the first weeks of preseason practices and scrimmages.
“The players have responded really well,” he said. “The attitude and effort have been really good. We have good group of guys this year.”