1. How will so much change affect Friday nights?
2012 will be marked by sweeping changes throughout the Twin Counties, and in many cases will be the foundation – good or bad – for what local high school football will become.
Four of the nine football-playing schools in the Twin Counties have a new coach. One, Rocky Mount Prep, is debuting its varsity team this year.
With sustained success, first-year North Edgecombe coach Keith Parisher could be the newest legendary coach in Leggett, like Danny Ward and Raymond Cobb before him, who kept North Edgecombe as a 1-A power for two decades.
This year is also the swan song for Cobb at SouthWest Edgecombe, as well as the 2-A Eastern Plains Conference itself, one of the more competitive leagues in the state.
Southern Nash waves goodbye to one of the more memorable senior classes in its history, while conference foes Rocky Mount High and Northern Nash look to recover from low points last season.
Nash Central will be eager to prove last season was only the beginning of an era, while Rocky Mount Academy would love for 2011 to be known as the end of one.
Programs will change this season, to be certain, and the current makeup of all things football might be different come next August.
But as Confucius once wrote, change in all things is sweet. Let’s enjoy the process.
2. Will Tarboro make it four-in-a-row?
The recurring message out of Tarboro is that the Vikings have won based on their team play.
Tarboro starts with T. Team does, too. But so does Todd Gurley.
More than any other year, the Vikings have an extensive amount of talent to replace. It’s not only Gurley, who could start at running back for the Georgia Bulldogs this year, but also linebackers Justin Pittman and Ced Ilo among a handful of talented players.
But to bet against Tarboro, which has made four straight title games, is usually a bad choice. The Vikings return Tyquan Lewis, who could be the best defensive player in the state by the end of the season, and quarterback Aaron Moore. The Vikings’ secret weapon this year could be transfer Travonne Marshall. Marshall will play fullback and has been compared to former Tarboro fullback Chris Lane, who ran for more than 1,000 yards in one season.
Either way, a victory in the state championship at the end of the 2012 season would set the Vikings up as one of the better programs in the history of North Carolina. Only two other programs, Robbinsville (5) and Charlotte Independence (7), have won more than four straight state titles.
The kicker for Tarboro is that the school will move down to 1-A next season, making the Vikingss pursuit of the record of seven straight well within their grasp – as long as they win this season.
3. Can a new stadium and a new coach revamp Rocky Mount High’s image?
The Gryphons new multi-million dollar complex and a new coach will do plenty for the program that has stumbled into mediocrity the past three years. First-year coach Jason Battle, who starred at Rocky Mount high in the late 1990s, will try to make the Gryphons’ fans forget about the recent past while mirroring Rocky Mount High’s tradition.
But the bigger question is: Will the Gryphons return to the conference and possible state champion form of the B.W. Holt era?
That comes with a much tougher answer, which Battle doesn’t even know.
The Gryphons have a great chance to be better than last year. To do so they’ll only have to win one conference game. The challenge will be to keep fans entertained.
Battle’s offense will be similar to the past three years when he was offensive coordinator, but it should include a little more flare.
All Battle wants to do this season is compete, and the Gryphons should be able to accomplish that goal. That doesn’t mean the 2012 season isn’t a pivotal one for the program.
Fans will come back, but the Gryphons have to give them a reason to stay.
4. Who will earn EPC’s final crown?
SouthWest Edgecombe coach Raymond Cobb could only chuckle last week when he saw the results of the league’s preseason poll.
Cobb’s Cougars, Tarboro and Kinston each finished in a three-way tie for what coaches believe will be the final champion in the 2-A Eastern Plains Conference as currently assembled.
Tarboro will move to 1-A next season, leaving a void in a powerhouse conference that has played in five state championships in the past four seasons – the Vikings competed for the 2-A state title in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011, while Kinston played in the 2-AA title game in 2011.
2012 signifies the final year of one of the more underrated conferences in the state at any classification, and the respect between coaches has been evident, dating back to four seasons ago.
Each of the three top programs – Tarboro, SouthWest Edgecombe and Kinston – have been predicted in the past three preseasons to be conference champions, only to have one of the other two programs win the crown.
Of more significance in the Twin Counties, the Oct. 12 battle when SouthWest Edgecombe visits Tarboro – “The Function at the Junction” – will be the final time in the foreseeable future that the two rivals meet as conference foes.
And if history is any indicator, that anticipated Cougars-Vikings matchup likely will have a major role in the latest conference championship race.
5. Is Wilson Hunt still the Beast of the Big East?
Every member school in every sport knew four years ago that the addition of Wilson Hunt to the Big East Conference was a major coup for the league.
The sport that perhaps is bearing the brunt of Wilson Hunt’s success is football, where the Warriors are fresh off an undefeated league campaign in 2011. The only school to extensively push Wilson Hunt a season ago was Nash Central, but the Bulldogs lost a pair of heartbreakers, including a triple-overtime matchup in the second round of the 3-A state playoffs.
This season, the Warriors received four first-place votes in the preseason coaches poll.
The Warriors, who finished 13-1 and advanced to the 3-A Eastern Region finals in 2011, are led by senior defensive end Lewis Neal, who verbally committed to LSU during the summer.
Wilson Hunt has won at least a share of the Big East conference in each of the past three seasons, and it has suffered only one league loss in that span.
If the Warriors achieve another year of such success, they will easily stake a claim to being the league’s dynasty.
– Jessie H. Nunery, Justin Hite and Nick Piotrowicz