UPDATED: Lenoir County prep football teams hold first practices Monday
Kinston head football coach Ryan Gieselman demonstrates a drill for his Vikings during Midnight Madness practice early Monday morning. Photo by William 'Bud' Hardy / Neuse News
Kinston holds lone local Midnight Madness Practice
Kinston got a head start on the competition late Sunday night.
As the 2018 football season officially kicked off, the Vikings participated in their fifth consecutive Midnight Madness to prepare for the upcoming season. North Carolina High School Athletic Association rules dictate that practices could begin at 12:01 Monday morning; the Vikings met in their field house Sunday night and started right on time.
Kinston is coming off a 9-3 season and have been in the playoffs for the past 10 years, winning at least seven games each season. That includes a 15-1 campaign in 2015 in which the Vikings reached the NCHSAA 2A title game.
Kinston coach Ryan Gieselman said the numbers have been great throughout the year with about 60 to 70 participants in summer practices, including the same Sunday night, with plenty of intensity from the players.
“We’re definitely going to be young, but we’ve got some key pieces back,” Gieselman said. “We’re getting everything figured out right now and hopefully by Week 1 against Farmville (Central), we’ll have it all figured about by then.”
Kinston lost 24 seniors from last year’s roster, including current Louisburg College freshman linebacker Sincere McDonald, who was in attendance. McDonald said he liked what he saw on the field.
“I loved playing football at Kinston High and I wanted to see how this group would look,” McDonald said. “I want the guys to be successful and make it to college on scholarships as well.”
Bailey Blake, who will play at Averett College this season, said she wanted to support the Vikings after making numerous clutch kicks over the past few years.
“I was out there on the field for three years, so it’s a little different watching,” Blake said. “I’ve played with a lot of these guys for two years and I wanted to see if their hard work over the summer was paying off.
"As a recent Kinston High graduate, I wanted to come out and show my support.”
The team will have to be ready in what’s projected to be another strong year in the Eastern Carolina 2A. The Vikings finished tied for second in the conference last season with Greene Central at 4-2 and one game behind West Craven, losing two league games by a combined three points.
“It’s a slobberknocker,” Gieselman said. “It’s a great football conference and I’d put it up against any conference in the whole state of North Carolina."
KaCeion Williams, who will play on both the offensive and defensive line, said he’s been trying to improve in his junior campaign to help the team out.
“I’ve been working on my footwork, my stance and getting faster,” Williams said. “I’m just trying to keep up with my teammates and get better each day.”
Senior wide receiver/linebacker B.J. Luter said he was ready for his final Midnight Madness practice with hopes to end the season with a bang.
“It feels good to be out here,” Luter said. “I’ve been trying to improve my speed, work on catching everything and just being a bruiser out there on the field. We’re also working on becoming closer as a team.”
Junior defensive end Shykel Harvey-Grady said the team came out with plenty of passion Sunday night.
“It’s been a very intense practice, but it’s a great way to stay in shape and make sure we’re ready for the upcoming season,” Harvey-Grady said.
Vikings senior quarterback Kieren Hooker said the chemistry will be vital throughout the season.
“We just have to make sure everyone’s doing the right thing,” Hooker said. “As long as we can come together, we’ve got the chance to be a great team.”
Arendell Parrott seeks retribution, fifth straight state title appearance
Arendell Parrott isn’t looking to take a step back in 2018.
The past four years for the Patriots have been the best in school history, as the program has made the state title game each season, including titles in 2015 and 2016. However, the 2017 season ended on a sour note with a 66-60 overtime loss to Rocky Mount Academy in the NCISAA championship.
Parrott has the opportunity to get revenge in the season-opener, traveling to face the Eagles Aug. 17. Although the team lost several important seniors — including A.J. Banker, Connor Bright and Holden Killinger — Patriots coach Matt Beaman said there’s still plenty of talent on the roster to make a fifth straight title game appearance.
“I think a lot of people look at this as a rebuilding year because we lost several key players, but I believe this team has a lot of high expectations,” Beaman said. “I look at it as reloading and we’re still expecting to make it to the state title game.”
About 30 players showed up to Parrott’s first practice of the season Monday morning, with nearly half of the group seniors. Beaman said he believes the ones playing their last year will be instrumental in the team’s success in 2018.
“We’ve got great leadership,” Beaman said. “Winning is contagious and the senior class doesn’t want to be the ones to have that streak end. We’ve got a lot of guys who will provide hard work and dedication to the program and that’s what will help us uphold this run.”
Senior Zach Vendemia, who will play quarterback, linebacker and safety for the Patriots, said the state title game loss has been on the minds of the players and they’ve gotten stronger from it.
“We learned to (keep our heads) in the game and not take anyone for granted,” Vendemia said. “This summer, we’ve been in the weight room getting stronger and working on our conditioning.”
Shy Thompson, a senior running back for the Patriots, said the team is also paying attention to detail.
“We’re making sure we have our plays down on both offense and defense,” Thompson said.
Senior running back and linebacker Gabe Braswell said the mission for 2018 is to show Parrott’s run hasn’t ended.
“We need to win and prove we’re not any worse than we were last year,” Braswell said. “We’re going to compete and hopefully we can win a state championship (to atone from 2017)."
Young South Lenoir team looks to develop in tough ECC
DEEP RUN -- South Lenoir is looking to prove quite a bit to the Eastern Carolina 2A this season.
Playing in a tough league a year ago, the extremely young Blue Devils struggled with a 1-10 season, although the lone victory was a 49-6 decision over Jones Senior. South Lenoir coach Jeremy Joyner said the team is still young — 12 players graduated from last season — but improvements have been evident throughout the summer.
“It started in the weight room,” Joyner said. “Kids have really worked hard (there) and gotten stronger. I’m really excited about the potential we’ve got—we’re going to be young, but we’ll have a lot of experience because we played a lot of young guys last year. We’re building something here and I’m really excited about the future of South Lenoir football.”
Joyner, in his third season as Blue Devils head coach, said the team is looking to make significant strides.
“The kids are working hard and buying in,” Joyner said. “I’m really getting good effort and attitude out of them. They’re really coming in with a mindset of ‘Hey, we can do something here.’”
R.J. Pickett, a sophomore running back and fullback for the Blue Devils, said he’s been doing his part to ensure he’s ready for the upcoming season.
“I’ve just been running and staying hydrated this summer,” Pickett said. “I think we’ll be good — we just have to stay focused on our game and not give up.”
Senior wide receiver and safety Elijah Hall said the team’s been focused throughout the summer and will look to keep the same energy in the regular season.
“We’ve been going hard during the summer workouts,” Hall said. “We have to keep doing that if we’re going to do better than last year.”
South Lenoir sophomore running back Geovanni Williams shared similar sentiments.
“If we work together and cooperate, we’ll be good this year,” Williams said.
North Lenoir prepares to build on previous success with new coach
The Jim Collins era took flight Monday at North Lenoir.
The Hawks had their first official practice under their new head coach, who comes to The Swamp with 27 years of coaching experience, including a 2012 state title with Harbor Beach — a school in Michigan — as an assistant. Collins was also an all-state linebacker in high school and played as a punter in college.
The numbers have been solid throughout the summer with about 70 players showing up for workouts and Collins said he’s impressed with the players on the North Lenoir roster.
“I think we’ve got a lot more talent than people think we do,” Collins said. “Not to say we’re going to win a state championship, but we’ve got some talent — the kids work hard and I’m really happy with our line play so I’m pretty excited about coaching these kids this year.”
The Hawks are currently in their best stretch in recent memory, where under Kim Brown the team won six games in 2016 — making the playoffs for the first time since 2005 and finishing one game away from their first conference title in school history — and narrowly missing the postseason again with five wins in 2017 despite losing numerous key players to injuries.
Collins said the team will look to play fundamentally sound on both sides of the ball in hopes of continuing the run.
“On offense, our goal is to take care of the football, try to maintain clock management and score enough points to win,” Collins said. “Defensively, we’re trying to get the kids in the right spots and play good, solid football: block and tackle.”
Overall, the players appear to have bought in to Collins' plans. North Lenoir junior quarterback Christian Young said the transition has been seamless and he’s ready to produce for the team.
“Everyone clicked with the new coach pretty quickly,” Young said. “We’ve been going to practice every day, working with the coaches and I’ve been able to get better and connect with my receivers.”
Senior wide receiver and cornerback Jaziah King said there will be a pretty solid overhaul when it comes to the Hawks’ playstyle.
“Our game is completely different,” King said. “The offense and defense has changed a lot, but we’ve been working hard to put it all together.”
Senior Ke’ondrae Southerland, who will look to play running back and slot receiver for North Lenoir, said the chemistry and focus has to be there throughout the season to be successful.
“We definitely can’t take this year as a joke,” Southerland said. “We’ve also got to stay injury-free and work together as a team. For the seniors, this is our last year and we’re not trying to get embarrassed — who wants to go out and do that?”
Bethel Christian looks to build with young roster
Bethel Christian Academy has seen both extremes in its short football history.
In the Trojans’ 2016 season — the first varsity campaign in 38 years — the team reeled off nine consecutive wins to end the year on the way to a NCISAA 1A state title. One year later, 3,000-yard rusher Javon Edwards and star linebacker Sincere McDonald transferred and the team fell to 1-8.
Despite the rough season, Bethel had strong moments, including a narrow 70-64 loss to eventual 1A champion Lasker Northeast Academy. Despite another young core, Trojans coach Brick Crowder said the talent is definitely evident.
“We have a lot of young guys right now that have had a lot of success on the JV level,” Crowder said. “I think they lost two games in two seasons total, so we have a lot of talent and don’t know what to expect coming out the gate, but if we work hard and the kids stay disciplined we’ll have a chance.”
Bethel Christian had just two seniors on the roster by season’s end in 2017, so optimism reigns supreme. Wide receiver and defensive back Cody Dunk said he’s ready to step up as a leader in his final high school season.
“It’s been a long offseason, but I’m ready to get back on the field,” Dunk said. “I went out and jogged every morning and did a lot of pushups to get ready. As a leader, the most important thing is to be vocal first and everything else will come.
"I feel like the young core we had last year have already caught on so we’ll be straight this year.”
One of those young members, sophomore Zack Boyd, saw his playing time increase toward the end of the 2017 campaign at running back and linebacker, and will be a vital part for 2018.
“I’ve got experience from last year and I know what I want to do in order to help the team win games,” Boyd said. “I’m trying to stay in shape all four quarters, be a leader on the field and even though we didn’t have a good season last year (we’ll do better).”
Junior defensive lineman Jeremiah Washington is a transfer from Kinston High School. He said the transition to 8-man football won’t be difficult.
“The summer workouts have been really good,” Washington said. “With this being my first year playing 8-man football, it felt like I had been playing it for a while working out with them.”
Crowder has cautious optimism for the upcoming season.
“I would like to think we keep the expectations low and see if these guys will buy in on the commitment and discipline end,” Crowder said. “If we do that, I think (by) conference season we’re going to have a good chance to be very competitive.”