The Eastern Plains 2A Conference has just one change from last year, but it’s an important one in football hierarchy. Out is Washington, which won at least a share of three EPC titles in four years, and in comes Nash Central from 3A.
In the league’s preseason coaches poll, last week at Parker’s Barbecue in Wilson, defending champ SouthWest Edgecombe had four first-place votes to lead the way. Nash Central had the other two, finishing ahead of (in order) Farmville Central, North Johnston, Beddingfield and North Pitt.
The Bruins are a dark horse in the league under first-year coach James Ward, who was the offensive coordinator last year. Beddingfield brings back seven defensive starters to a unit that held eight of their 12 opponents to 19 points or less, including shutouts of Farmville Central and North Johnston.
Last year: 6-6 (3-2 Eastern Plains 2A)
Offense: Spread Zone Read; Defense: 4-3.
Returning Starters: 5 offense, 7 defense.
Coaches: James Ward (HC/OC), Roland Lofton (DC/DBs), Kelvin Horne (OL/Head JV), Noah Edens (LBs), Josh Crowell (RBs), Dwight Joyner (WRs), Billy Woodard (DL), Albert Alston (LBs), Todd Tant (LBs), Joe Dvozenja (WRs), Parker Martin (WRs).
Contributors: Marcus Parker (Sr. RB/FS), Tacoby Coleman (Jr. LB) Jalil Hutcherson (Soph. FS), Sean Jones (Sr. QB), Daymond Kardesoglu (Jr. OL), Zack Adams (Jr., DE).
Farmville’s record was a bit deceiving last year, having lost three close contests. A good mix of returning talent, led by Keziah Everett, could have the Jaguars in position to surprise a few teams this year. Everett is a 6-foot-2, 322-pound nose guard who is athletic enough to catch passes at tight end.
Last year: 6-6 (2-3 Eastern Plains 2A)
Offense: Diamond Power; Defense: 4-4.
Returning Starters: 5 offense, 5 defense.
Coaches: Scott Gardner (HC), Zach Sellers (Head JV), Josh Dixon (DC), David Webb (OL/DL), Tommy Whitley (Special Teams), Wesley Dixon (WRs/DBs), Natron Elliot, Willie Davis, Jordan Mobley.
Contributors: Keziah Everett (Jr. TE/DT), Matt Leavelle (Jr., QB/FS), Kameron McNeill (Sr. WR), Bryan Reid (Sr. RB/DB), Alvin Grizzard (Sr., OL).
The Bulldogs went from 1-32 in the previous three seasons to finishing third in a conference with 3A runner-up Rocky Mount and a 12-1 Southern Nash team. A drop to 2A will cushion the blow from heavy graduation losses. Quarterback Travis Griffin (1,616 yards, 16 TDs) and linebacker Alex Nobles (113 tackles, 16 for loss) are the leaders on their respective units and Mckinley Lyons is a big-play threat (9 catches, 6 TDs; 441 yards rushing, 3 TDs).
Last year: 7-5 (3-2 Big East 3A)
Offense: Wing-T; Defense: 4-4.
Returning Starters: 3 offense, 3 defense.
Coaches: Chris Lee (HC), Kent Cox (DC/DB), Juan Jackson (Special Teams/RBs), Ricardo Jerome (OL/LBs), Richard Mason (DBs/WRs), Shon Johnson (DL).
Contributors: Travis Griffin (Sr. QB), Alex Nobles (Sr. MLB), Mckinley Lyons (Sr. RB), Malichi Ruffin (Sr. DB), Jay Smith (Sr. WR), Kesean Williams (Sr. OL), B.W. Weber (Sr. OL), Kendall Winston (Jr. DB) Anna Shay Thompson (Sr. K).
Despite being named head coach just four weeks before the season began, Jon Riba and the Panthers nearly won the league. Quarterback Trey Whitley is the returning offensive player of the year after throwing for 14 touchdowns (1,075 yards) and rushing for nine more (655 yards). With Brandon Barnes and Diego Santiago leading the defense, North Johnston could continue its upward trend.
Last year: 7-5 (3-2 Eastern Plains 2A)
Offense: Spread; Defense: 3-4.
Returning Starters: 4 offense, 5 defense.
Coaches: Jon Riba (HC/DL), Kyle Stevens (DC/ILB/Assistant HC), Cory Barns (OC/DB), Jeremiah Holland (OL/OLB), Kavin Dublin (WR/RB/DB), Robert Sims (WR/LB).
Contributors: Trey Whitley (Sr. QB/FS), Brandon Barnes (Sr. LB), Diego Santiago (Jr. LB), Ethan Thompson (Sr. OL/DL), Colby Hall (Sr. OL/DL), Jordan Dixon (Sr. LB/WR), Gavin Suttles (Sr. WR/DB), Michael Lawrence (Sr. RB/DB) Austin Lee (Jr. WR/DB), Imandre McFarland (Jr. WR/DB), Travis Riba (Jr. LB/WR), Kevin Bautista (Jr. OL/DL), Brandon Peeding (Jr. (WR/DB), Michael Barnes (Jr. OL/DL), Phillip Crumel (Soph. OL/DL).
Garrett Wingate is the Panthers’ third head coach in as many seasons, and he was hired in late July. Wingate said he wanted this year’s team to let go of the past and focus on the present. He calls them a resilient group which has had to learn a new offense and defense each year. However, North Pitt may be the league’s most experienced team.
Last year: 1-10 (0-5 Eastern Plains 2A)
Offense: Pro; Defense: 4-2-5.
Returning Starters: 7 offense, 7 defense.
Coaches: Garrett Wingate (HC/OC/QB/), Michael Hobbs (DC/DL), Deondre Gunter (Special Teams Coordinator/OL), Lance Sanders (Head JV/LB), Matt Goddard (WR), Patrick Smith (DB), Chris Strathy (RB), Marcus Myers (Assistant Coach).
Contributors: Keith Andrews (Sr. RB), Naziyer Brown (Sr. DE), Keshon Cox (Jr. WR), Izarion Blango (Jr. CB), Geromy Wright (Sr. QB),Tyren Jenkins (Sr. RB), Mason Sutton (Sr. OL/DE), Khalic Everette (Sr. OL/DT), Tayquon Ward (Jr. OL/DT), Ki’Jawon Williams (Jr. LB).
The Cougars started the year 0-4 while dealing with a number of new starters, but the payoff could be coming this year. Coach Jonathan Cobb thinks his team will be able to utilize its power run game in trying to defend its outright conference title. There are some holes at linebacker and in the secondary, but the front four will be a defensive strength.
Last year: 5-7 (4-1 Eastern Plains 2A)
Offense: Wishbone; Defense: 4-4.
Returning Starters: 9 offense, 6 defense.
Coaches: Jonathan Cobb (HC/OC), Alphonso Randolph (DC/DBs/WRs), Glenn Warren (RBs/OLBs/Special Teams), Eric Duff (OL/ILBs), Joe Williams (DTs/TEs) Fred Sponhaltz (DEs), Eric McKnight (Head JV).
Contributors: Alex Foster (Sr. RB), Jaquez Powell (Soph. C), K'Shun Lancaster (Sr. LG), Brent Bulluck (Sr. LT/DT), T.J. Harris (Sr. TE), Jalen Smith (Jr. DE), Jordan Clayton (Jr. DT/FB), Nigeria Macon (Sr. ILB), Darntrell Council (Jr. CB/RB).