Smithfield: Sports

Princeton wants to take next step

Assistant coach John Benson talks with Princeton players during a time out in Friday's second round game against James Kenan.
Assistant coach John Benson talks with Princeton players during a time out in Friday's second round game against James Kenan. DEAN STRICKLAND

Derrick Minor said when he came to Johnston County’s smallest traditional high school in 2012 he didn’t want to just build a winning football team. The new coach wanted to build and sustain a program.

And if his first two seasons at Princeton are any indication, that’s exactly what he’s doing.

Last season the Bulldogs got through the regular season 2-8, but won three games in the state 1A playoffs before losing at eventual undefeated state champion Plymouth in the Eastern final.

Then on Friday night the Bulldogs dropped a 43-36 decision at Carolina 1A rival James Kenan (12-0) – the state’s top-ranked 1A team – in the second round of the state 1AA playoffs, finishing their season at 9-4.

And Princeton, which will lose exactly two starters on offense next season, returns not only its starting quarterback but a running back who is among the best players in the state, period.

“I’m never disappointed in our kids’ heart and effort,” Minor said after Friday’s loss. “All you can ask for is to give it all you’ve got for four quarters. It just didn’t work out on the scoreboard, but I’m proud of the young men for what they’ve done.”

Junior Johnny Frasier, who said he is already weighing offers from Duke, UNC and N.C. State, rushed for 297 yards and four TDs on 21 carries Friday night.

In the Bulldogs’ earlier game at Kenan on Sept. 27, he had 154 receiving yards as classmate Michael Wooten passed for 278 yards and two TDs in the 35-22 loss.

“All week long some of the guys were hearing (Kenan) could stop the run,” Minor said. “They stopped it the first time, but I think Johnny showed that he’s the real deal. He makes us multi-dimensional. We can run, but we can also pass. He tells kids he’s going to score touchdowns for them and then goes out and does it. He’s a role model more than anything for our school.”

Frasier rushed for 2995 yards and 40 TDs this season, behind only Nyheim Hines of long-time 4A power Garner in the Greater Triangle area. He also had 557 receiving yards and four TDs. Kenan absolutely refused to kick to him in kickoff situations on Friday.

“It feels amazing to make long runs,” said Frasier, who was second in the 100 meters at the state 1A track meet in the spring. “That’s why they call me ‘Johnny Rocket.’ Last year told us we could go to battle with anyone if we put our minds to it, and that’s what we did this year. We’re going to lose some great seniors off this year’s team, but I think we can fill in for them.

“Coach has made this a family. It’s not just football any more.”

Wooten had very good numbers of his own, completing 98 of 188 for 1432 yards.

“That playoff run really motivated us to push ourselves during the off-season,” Wooten said. “All year we were saying ‘One more,’ because with one more win last year we would have been in the state championship. We just came together, worked hard all off-season and the results came out.

“Johnny helps a lot. A good running back opens the passing game up and everything else. The state championship is what we want next year.”

Senior lineman Matthew Peedin, who is also on the wrestling and baseball teams, said he’s hoping to play at UNC Pembroke next season.

“I always thought we were going to win this one,” said Peedin, who was right tackle on offense and played wherever he was needed on the defensive line. “With our offensive line and Johnny running the way he does, sometimes it just popped out of nowhere. It was great to make blocks and then watch him go.

“Coach has done more things than just teach football. He teaches us to do the right thing all the time, whether we’re by ourselves or with a group of people.”

Minor said he’s really looking forward to next season, but wants the Bulldogs to build for the future even after Frasier has departed for college ball.

“We’ve established a program,” Minor said. “We’ve established a mindset, whether it’s in the weight room, keeping accountability in the classroom and the whole nine yards. So the results you’re seeing on the field are from a mindset change. They believe they can go against the No. 1 team in the state and give them a battle.

“But we look to be back bigger and better than ever next year.”