GC, A-G football teams ready to keep winning traditions going in 2018
Greene Central head coach Allen Wooten, center, confers with his coaching staff during Monday's practice. Photo by William 'Bud' Hardy / Neuse News
Junious Smith III of Neuse News continued his tour of prep football practices on Tuesday by visiting Greene Central and Ayden-Grifton.
Greene Central wants to continue making noise this season
SNOW HILL -- Greene Central is looking to continue its ascent in 2018.
A team once mired in a 16-game losing streak which was snapped in 2013 — Allen Wooten’s first as Rams’ head coach — has made the postseason the past five years. Since 2015, Greene Central is 26-11, including last year’s 28-6 playoff win over Kinston, the team’s first postseason victory since 2005.
Expectations have only gotten stronger for the Rams internally, even in a loaded Eastern Carolina 2A conference. The team finished 8-5 in 2017 and tied for second in the ECC before advancing to the second round of the NCHSAA 2A playoffs. Wooten said the team is looking to attain several goals during his sixth year at the helm.
“We obviously want to go deeper in the playoffs — third, fourth round, maybe make it to the state championship game,” Wooten said. “Of course, a conference championship (has been) the ultimate goal for the season.”
Wooten said the players have put in plenty of time over the summer to get better, which has led to one of the best runs in Greene Central history.
“(The culture’s) transformed because of hard work in the weight room (and) the classroom,” Wooten said. “You’ve got to make sure you’re reinforcing good behavior everywhere. That’s what we’ve been doing and we’ve had success because of it.”
The Rams lost 22 players to graduation — including standouts such as Jackson Batchelor, Taboris Bynum, Willie Edwards and Tyreke Speight — but will look to maintain the success. Senior running back and safety A.J. Dupree said summer workouts have been intense throughout.
“We’ve been coming out here, working hard every day on the field and the weight room getting ready for the season,” Dupree said.
Rams junior B.J. Corbitt will be taking over quarterback duties after Batchelor graduated and said he’s ready for the challenge.
“I’ve been taking every rep seriously in practice, trying to get better (throughout),” Corbitt said.
Overall for senior linebacker Brandon Gilbert, winning a playoff game for the first time in 12 years was great, but he said the team can’t get complacent in 2018.
“We have to make sure we all stay together as a team,” Gilbert said. “We’ve got to get the selfish people out and keep it together. It felt pretty good to break the curse (of not winning in the playoffs), but we got too satisfied and it showed in the second round. We can’t let that happen this year.”
Chargers aiming for another run to the playoffs
What Ayden-Grifton lacks in numbers, the Chargers make up for in consistency.
The Chargers will look to keep the longest streak in the Eastern Carolina Conference alive, reaching the postseason for the 18th consecutive year. Ayden-Grifton coach Paul Cornwell said the team has adjusted to not having as many players as other teams in the conference but continue to battle.
“Numbers are never really where you want them to be overall, but the core group out here are great kids,” Cornwell said. “We’ve won a lot of football games with a lot of guys going both ways (and while it’s) difficult when you’re lining up against teams that have a lot of players, we’ve done it before.
"We think our guys will come out and take a lot of pride with the fact they don’t come off the field a great deal, and as coaches we’re going to have to make sure they’re ready for that.”
Cornwell said the players have also put in a great session of summer practices with hopes of winning a fourth ECC title in six years.
“Guys have come out and worked very hard,” Cornwell said. “They’ve done everything we’ve asked them to do. We think if we can stay healthy, we’ll be competitive.”
Senior running back and linebacker Ray Darden said the Chargers are ready to roll and improve upon a 6-6 season in 2017, the team's lowest win total in more than a decade.
“We’ve been excited about the season all summer and getting back on the field,” Darden said. “It means a lot to put it all on the field and even though we always want to make the playoffs, we’re also trying to outdo last year’s team. It’s about trying to see how far we can go (in the postseason).”
Senior quarterback Blake McLawhorn said throughout the summer the team has looked to change a bit offensively from the run-dominant style of previous years.
“We’ve been passing a lot and trying to do more than just the run game,” McLawhorn said. “We’ve got a lot more talent and a lot of hard-working guys.”
Michael Webb, a junior wide receiver and defensive back, said the chemistry will be helpful throughout the year.
“It’s a family sport and we work together really well,” Webb said. “We may lack the numbers, but we all come together to keep playing for each other.”