Rocky Mount has advanced to the last two N.C. High School Athletic Association 3A football championship games and that may have been on the brain when Big East 3A Conference coaches voted the Gryphons as the preseason favorite last week at the conference’s preseason kickoff meeting.
Southern Nash, however, was voted second, right behind Rocky Mount. It was the Firebirds who won the league last year, but Southern Nash lost the rematch with the Gryphons in the second round of the playoffs, ending dreams of an undefeated year.
Fike was picked third, followed by Northern Nash, Hunt and Franklinton. Franklinton is a newcomer, moving up from the Northern Carolina 2A Conference and replacing Nash Central.
Franklinton’s transition to a tough 3A league will be eased by graduating only seven seniors from last year. Kyeon Spencer could line up behind center or elsewhere and linebacker Josiah Trotter (153 tackles, 26.5 for loss, 4 interceptions) is getting some high-level recruiting interest.
Last year: 6-6 (2-3 Northern Carolina 2A)
Offense: Spread; Defense: 4-3.
Returning starters: 6 offense, 4 defense.
Coaches: JeVar Bransome (HC/OC), Jason Redmond (Associate Head Coach/Special Teams Coordinator/DBs), Ben Gage (DC/DL), Bryan Perry (Head JV Coach, QBs), Jarad Brown (Run Game Coordinator/OL), Matthew Hockaday (Passing Game Coordinator/WR), Andrew Trotter (LBs).
Contributors: Josiah Trotter (Sr. LB), E’kwon White (Sr. DE), Kyeon Spencer (Sr. ATH), C.J. Perry (Sr. DB), Jordan Vitale (Sr. K), Scott Schriver (Sr. QB), Kendall Harris (Jr. ATH), Michael Rogers (Jr. DE), Michael Smith (Jr. OL), Steve Green (Jr. DB), Samuel Buckner (Jr. OL/DL), Raven Cardwell (Jr. WR).
The Golden Demons had another solid season thanks in part by going 4-2 in games decided by seven points or less. Fike has a good mix of returning talent on both sides of the ball, and will once again be one of the best in the state in the kicking game.
Last year: 6-6 (2-3 Big East 3A)
Offense: Spread Shotgun, Multiple; Defense: Even front.
Returning Starters: 6 offense, 4 defense.
Coaches: Tom Nelson (HC/OC), David Pridgen (DC/DL), Mark Pittman (LBs), Brian Boykin (WRs), Richard Bunch (LBs), Josh Jenkins (QBs/RBs), Joe Ellis (WRs/DBs), Sonny West (DBs), Andy Jenkins (OL).
Contributors: Lewis Pearce (Sr. OL), Aaron Jolly (Sr. RB), Brandon Atkinson (Sr. WR/DB), Cody Cooper-Speight (Jr. RB), Jalen Currie (Sr. DE), Dangelo Hodge (Sr. DE), Justin Daniels (Sr. LB), Garrett Browder (Jr. LB), John Gliarmis (Sr. K/P), Walker Gliarmis (Sr. K/P).
The Warriors didn’t make the postseason last year as they dealt with some difficulty on offense. Hunt scored less than 10 points in six contests, but that could improve this year with four starters back on the offensive line.
Last year: 3-8 (0-5 Big East 3A)
Offense: Multiple I; Defense: 4-4.
Returning Starters: 4 offense, 7 defense
Coaches: Keith Byrum (HC/RBs/DBs), Richie Pridgen (Assistant HC/OL), John Glover (DC/LBs), Marcus Johnson (OC/QBs), Paul Willoughby (DBs), Ronnie Sutton (WRs), Spencer Allen (DL), Toby Hall (LBs), Willie Thomas (JV head coach).
Contributors: Isaiah Watson (Jr. RB/DB), Donte Farmer (Sr. LB), Noah Randolph (Sr. LB), Jameson Lucas (Sr. LB), Dallas Kemp (Sr. DL/FB), Christian Phaby (Jr. LB/FB), Derek Speight (Sr. OG), Bryson Gibson (Sr. OL).
The Knights were in nearly every game last year, but went 2-4 in one-possession games. This year’s group is young – most were starting on JV last year – but promising quarterback Davontae Wiggins, who took over late last year, leads the way.
Last year: 5-7 (1-4 Big East 3A)
Offense: Pro-I; Defense: 50 front.
Returning Starters: 3 offense, 3 defense.
Coaches: Randy Raper (HC), Al Hardison (OC/QBs/RBs), Andrew Farriss (OL/DL), Ashley Davis (WRs/DBs), Shawn Rose (OL/DL).
Contributors: Devontae Wiggins (Jr. QB), Joseph Brake (Sr. OL), Trevor Sledge (Sr. WR), Demario Nicholson (Sr. RB), Shyquan Horton (Sr. LB).
Gone are almost all of the major faces of the last two years, and the Gryphons are young on both sides of the ball. But Rocky Mount is never lacking in talent, and league coaches showed that by their votes. It’s hard to find a better pair of corners than Shyheim Battle and Detrell Revis (9 interceptions).
Last year: 13-3 (4-1 Big East 3A)
Offense: Wing-T; Defense: 4-3.
Returning Starters: 3 offense, 5 defense.
Coaches: Jason Battle (HC), Jermaine Jones (DC), Sam Watson (WRs), Carter Varnell (LBs), Carl Smith (DBs), William Cherry, Nick Hahula (ST/RBs), Robert Hart (DL), Koron Nickelson (OL), Brandon Arrington.
Contributors: Shyheim Battle (Jr. DB), Detrell Revis (Sr. DB/WR), Marcus Braswell (Sr. OL), Desmond Barnes (Jr. OL), Charlie Williams (Sr. RB).
Southern Nash is bringing back a number of its headliners, like running backs Kendrick Bell (1,261 yards, 18 TDs), Zonovan Knight (1,142 yards, 18 TDs), safety Dae’One Wilkins (107 tackles, 17 for loss as a linebacker) and Virginia Tech cornerback recruit Nadir Thompson. This year’s group lacks the depth of last season, so staying healthy is important.
Last year: 12-1 (5-0 Big East 3A)
Offense: Double wing; Defense: 4-4.
Returning Starters: 5 offense, 5 defense.
Coaches: Brian Foster (HC), Brian Batchelor (OC/OGs/Cs), Brian Rice (Head JV/RBs), Adam Monts De Oca (OTs/TEs), Sterling Leonard (FBs), Robbie Kennedy (DC/LBs), Kwamaine Battle (DL), Josh Sessoms (Safeties), Jordon Bass (CBs)
Contributors: Kendrick Bell (Sr. RB), Zonovan Knight (Jr. RB), Chris Smith (Sr. TE), Lorenzo Sessoms (Sr. QB), Devonte Taybron (Sr. OT), Abe Rodriquez (Sr. OG) Dae’One Wilkins (Sr. S/LB), Nadir Thompson (Sr. CB), Hunter Perry (Sr. LB), Ricky Knight (Jr. DE), Nasheen Cooley (Sr. DT), Lamont Williams (Jr. DT).