Marvin Burke says considering what the team had lost from the 2011 season, going 6-6 in his first year as head coach at Southeast Raleigh wasn’t too bad.
Gone, and now a redshirt freshman at Old Dominion, was David Washington, who was one of the better athletes in school history and one of the top quarterbacks in recent memory in the Greater Neuse River 4A Conference.
“I thought we did all right last year,” said Burke, a former East Carolina linebacker who had been on former head coach and now athletic director Daniel Finn’s staff at Southeast before his three-year stint at Richburg (S.C.) Lewisville. “David had accounted for 90 percent of the offense and led them in rushing, touchdown passes and everything.
“But we were able to start a lot of sophomores and juniors. And I think we did pretty well. Some schools might not go .500 and might not make the playoffs after they’ve lost their best player.”
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This year, he says, is going to be different.
“Our depth is going to be really good,” he said. “A lot of the seniors who were starting last year were playing varsity for the first time last season. We’ve got most of our skilled people coming back. And I think our team experience overall is really good.”
The Bulldogs will return starters at 14 positions, with particular strength in the skilled spots on offense as well as in the linebacker and secondary corps. Burke said he anticipates having between 80 and 90 players in the program when the team opens at Jack Britt on Aug. 23.
Burke said he has about as much depth at quarterback as a team can have, calling the position a “four-headed monster.”
Current 6-foot-3 senior Demontae Spence and junior Cameron Marshmon (5-8, 150) shared most of the snaps last season. Senior Darris Bridgers and last season’s JV quarterback, 6-5 Dylan Parham, are also in the mix.
“Our options are wide open,” he said. “When you’ve got experienced quarterbacks you’ve got options. Marshmon is an athlete, and he’ll spend some time at receiver and will start at corner (he didn’t last year) on defense. The luxury we have this year that we didn’t have last year is experience. But we learned through those growing pains what each kid can do.”
Other returning starters on offense include five other seniors – running back Aschod Meeks-Ewing, wideouts Antonio Gunter and Fred McDuffie, tackles Dequan Fisher and 330-pound tackle Onyx Jones, and center Ross Tyler. Guard Shack Boye started last season as a sophomore.
Senior returning starters on defense are linebackers Jamerson Lockley and David Onyiego, and backs David Cannon and Jeremiah Rowland. Junior returning starters are 6-3 middle linebacker Timarcus Simpson and safety Jaquell Taylor.
Burke said among the seniors Meeks-Ewing, Gunter and Rowland are currently getting the most recruiting attention.
While he’s not looking for two-way guys who never leave the field, Burke said most of his better players will see action on both sides of the ball.
“Our philosophy is to put the best athletes on the field no matter what position they play,” he explained.
The depth weakness will be up front, where among others 6-3, 280-pounder Philip Shuler graduated and is now wrestling at Appalachian State.
“Our weaknesses are always the line positions,” he said. “We don’t have 6-4 monsters; we just have nice kids who are athletes.”
Burke said he’s confident the Bulldogs will have a good season, but winning the conference title is a heavy lift.
“Garner is the one to beat every year, and the coach at Knightdale (Robert Senseney) has done a great job of getting the kids to play the type of football he wants,” Burke said. “He’s done a good job. And Clayton had a great season last year.
“I think our conference is always strong. The Greater Neuse is the strongest conference in the county, bar none, if you look team-for-team, stat-for-stat and player-for-player. So every game is tough. You look at your schedule and what games you can win, and you have question marks over every one.”
The schedule is even tougher because of the Bulldogs’ participation in the Carolinas Kickoff Clash Aug. 29 and 30 in Myrtle Beach. Southeast’s opponent at 4:30 that Saturday afternoon is Irmo (S.C.) Dutch Fork, last season’s state AAAA runner-up.
“We’re going to be playing against (Coach) Tommy Knotts, the legend so it’s going to be real interesting,” Burke said. “We felt like we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to represent ourselves and Wake County.”