PINETOPS – If 10-year-old Jonathan Cobb and present-day Jonathan Cobb could meet, there’s a decent change they might be at odds.
There was only one thing 10-year-old Jonathan Cobb really wanted: North Edgecombe to win on Friday nights.
Present-day Jonathan Cobb, in his first year as coach of SouthWest Edgecombe, is doing everything in his power to prevent that exact thing from happening tonight.
Cobb’s father, Raymond, took the Warriors to five state championship games as their coach (and won two), in 24 1⁄2 years at the school, and the younger Cobb was along for the ride. He was a ball boy, the Warriors’ adopted little brother and the team’s most passionate fan.
Truth be told, that love never left.
“I love North Edgecombe. I love everything North Edgecombe football stands for,” Cobb said. “... I hope it’s a great game (tonight). I want them to win their conference and a 1-A state championship, but it’s not my job to pull for them this Friday night.”
There is one word used by most people associated with North Edgecombe in the 1990s: Magic.
What better word to describe a team that didn’t lose a single home playoffs game under Cobb in nearly a quarter century?
Or a team that overcame a three-touchdown deficit in the fourth quarter to beat Rosewood in 2002?
Or the heavy underdog that beat Murphy, 7-6, in dense fog at Kenan Stadium to win the 1994 state championship?
People from surrounding counties used to spill into Leggett on Friday nights just to see the Warriors play football, and that was no accident.
“It was the greatest place to be in the world, as far as I was concerned,” Raymond Cobb said. “We had a tremendous following, and it was at home or on the road.”
All of it had a profound effect on Jonathan Cobb.
After North Edgecombe lost in the Eastern Regional final in 1993, a blowout loss to eventual champion Hobbton, 10-year-old Cobb bawled on the car ride home. It was done at that point. Football was in his system for good.
“Not necessarily because of the loss, but because of the emotion afterwards, the hurt I saw from all of those players, I guess I got in the car with my mom, my granddad and my grandmother, and I was overhwelmed with emotion myself,” Cobb said. “That’s the first time I remember football touching a place that maybe sports never had.”
When it came time to go to high school, Cobb had a tough choice: North Edgecombe, which he could attend because of his father, or SouthWest Edgecombe, his actual district. He wanted to play football for his dad but ultimately settled on SouthWest Edgecombe, a fitting decision considering the Cobbs have southern Edgecombe County roots that predate the Revolutionary War.
He played JV football for the Cougars but couldn’t bring himself to play varsity. When the Cougars and Warriors played in his junior and senior seasons, he was standing on the Warriors’ sideline and cheering for North Edgecombe.
“It was either play (at SouthWest Edgecombe) and put my mom in a bind, or continue to be a Warrior on Friday nights,” Cobb said. “I chose to be a Warrior on Friday nights.”
Cobb became an assistant coach after college but left high school football after he accepted a lucrative insurance job a few years ago. He worked there for nine months. He said he knew after one month he couldn’t stay long term.
Cobb couldn’t be without football.
It was something about that era of North Edgecombe that touched everyone permanently.
“I still have kids come back and talk with me from those teams,” said current Warriors coach Keith Parisher, an assistant for 20-plus years under Raymond Cobb. “... We had fun all week. We had a great group of kids and coaches.”
To the Cobbs, North Edgecombe was everything a football program should be. The players had little but appreciated everything. Playing for the Warriors “was the greatest honor of their lives,” as Cobb said, and it showed by how hard they worked at every chance.
Their efforts ran concurrently with those of a caring, knowledgeable coaching staff which worked deep into many nights to ensure the Warriors had a chance to win come Fridays.
All of that was rewarded with a community that provided incredible support.
That magic decided Jonathan Cobb’s course.
Cobb said he still has goosebumps when he drives past North Edgecombe. He has made it his life’s work to recreate the feelings he experienced on those nights in Leggett, even if the first win of his career – perhaps fittingly – could come against North Edgecombe.
“What I saw as a kid on the sidelines at North Edgecombe, no matter where I am or what I do, to feel those emotions, that type of pride – not by yourself, but have it reaffirmed in the players’ faces and fans’ faces and their actions – that’s what I’ll be chasing my entire career,” Cobb said. “Whether that’s possible to gander, I’m not sure.
“But it’s worth chasing.”
Nick Piotrowicz can be reached at 407-9952 or npiotrowicz @rmtelegram.com