Ashley Ennis isn’t a coach to deviate from his long-term plan for a short-term reward. The second-year North Johnston football coach is being patient with a low number of seniors and juniors who have turned out this summer.
The temptation is to move up freshmen and sophomores who can contribute, but Ennis wants them to develop for down-the-road payoff. It’s not an easy thing when coming off a 1-10 season in one of the state’s best 2A leagues, the Eastern Plains Conference.
“We’re going to try not to rob the JV unless they’re going to start on the varsity. So we’ll leave those freshmen and sophomores down and let them develop,” Ennis said. “We’re trying to build things the right way.”
North Johnston, one of the smallest 2A schools in the state, brings back a small group of experienced players to run the wing-T, but its leading returning rusher is Tracy Barnes (138 yards).
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Ennis expects about 20-25 players on varsity. Staying healthy is important, as it was last year when the team had just 14 juniors and seniors combined. Many small schools have to deal with this problem, which Ennis said affects position battles more than anything.
“If we can ever get to where we can get 30-40 on the varsity, then we can compete a little better because you compete at practice,” Ennis said. “If you’ve got 18 or 20, you don’t practice as hard. It’s just human nature. A lot of kids do, but others say ‘Well, who’s going to take my spot? I’m going to play.’ Complacency is the enemy of all athletics. You got a kid who’s complacent, he quits getting better.”
The Panthers’ bright spot last year was emphatically snapping a 19-game losing streak with a 42-14 drubbing of North Lenoir.
“We played the whole game. I probably got the most compliments from other coaches or just people in general that (said) ‘At least they didn’t quit in the fourth quarter. They kept playing regardless of the score,’” Ennis said. “And that’s where we’re at. We’ve got to just keep going out there competing and see what happens.”
The Panthers (1-10, 0-5) haven’t won a league game in its two seasons in the conference and the tough sledding doesn’t get easier this year. The EPC had three 10-win teams including state runner-up Washington.
“We’re in a situation where we need some success early going into the conference because when we go into the conference, we’re staring up at everybody,” Ennis said. “I don’t think none of them have gotten worse.”
Contributors: QB/LB Dallas Krob; RB/S Tracy Barnes; TE; OL Robert Jackson; OL Cy Daughtry; OL/DL Ethan Williams; OL/DLBen Jaramillo; DL Holden Hales; LB Tyler Scott; CB Treyshawn McFadden; CB Jonathan Gonzalez.
Expected team strength: Secondary.
Question mark: Running backs.
Player they’ll miss the most: OL Greg Castle. The offensive lineman, now playing at Randolph-Macon, was big and tough.
The main number: 41.5 - how many points per game the Panthers gave up last year. Only two teams – Lakewood (25) and North Lenoir (14) scored less than 39.
The quote: Ennis: “We’ve got to get a lot out of the seniors that we got; the six or seven that we’ve got.”
Game to watch: Aug. 28 at Rosewood. Taking an early nonconference win would do wonders for confidence as it enters a four-game stretch that includes three 3A foes.
Last five years
2014: 1-10 (0-5)
2013: 0-11 (0-5)
2012: 3-8 (2-5)
2011: 8-5 (4-3), 2A second round
2010: 9-3 (4-2), 2A first round