West Craven picked to win Eastern Carolina 2A football championship
The Eastern Carolina 2A football coaches met at South Lenoir High School Wednesday morning, where Neuse News conducted an exclusive poll of the anticipated finish of the league for 2018. The head coaches are, from left, Kinston's Ryan Gieselman, Washington's Jon Blank, Greene Central's Allen Wooten, Ayden-Grifton's Paul Cornwell, South Lenoir's Jeremy Joyner and North Lenoir's Jim Collins. West Craven head coach Mike Twichell was not at the meeting but sent his votes via Athletic Director David Fernandez. Photo by Bryan Hanks / Neuse News
DEEP RUN -- West Craven has been selected to win the 2018 Eastern Carolina 2A title, according to the league's coaches.
In an exclusive poll conducted by Neuse News at the EC2A coach's meeting at South Lenoir High School on Wednesday, the league's coaches picked the Eagles to defend their 2017 poll.
Coaches were not allowed to vote for their own team in the balloting conducted by Neuse News. West Craven finished with four first-place votes, while Ayden-Grifton received two and Greene Central received one vote.
The coaches also voted for EC2A preseason offensive and defensive players of the year and they were allowed to vote for their own players.
Eagles coach Mike Twichell was unable to attend the meeting, but West Craven athletic director David Fernandez said it was an honor to be selected as the team to beat after hoisting the EC2A title last season.
"It means a lot, especially when you can't vote for yourself in the poll," Fernandez said. "It doubles down on our high expectations -- we like to think we're one of the better teams in the conference and we'll certainly play with a purpose."
West Craven received 32 points total with four first-place votes. Ayden-Grifton and Greene Central each scored 28 points in the poll with the Chargers receiving two first-place votes and the Rams getting one top nod.
"We have high expectations and it seems the conference thinks that as well," Ayden-Grifton coach Paul Cornwell said. "I think West Craven is the best team in our conference, but it's also going to be very competitive."
Ayden-Grifton is looking to make the playoffs for the 18th straight season, while Greene Central has a streak of five postseason appearances, including the Rams' first playoff victory in 2017. Greene Central coach Allen Wooten said the EC2A is going to be tough again.
"You can take the conference and 1 through 6 is a tossup," Wooten said. "Whoever's playing the best ball on Friday will do well, but anyone can win. Of course, you'd like to be picked first, but hopefully the guys will take it and understand what they need to go."
Kinston finished the 2017 season tied for second in conference play, but was selected fourth in Wednesday's poll with 23 points. Vikings coach Ryan Gieselman said his focus will be where the team lies at season's end.
"It's not about where you start, but where you finish," Gieselman said. "It's something we talk about all year and it's not about polls -- we have to go out there and perform."
Washington gave West Craven its only conference loss last season and was selected fifth in the poll with 19 points.
"I think last year we were voted sixth, so we've earned some respect," Pam Pack coach Jon Blank said. "We've still got a long way to go with the program to be top-tier, but by the end of the season we hope to work some things out."
North Lenoir was selected sixth in the poll with 10 points. New Hawks coach Jim Collins said the team will look to prove themselves on the field.
"I always tell people this is on paper and these are opinions," Collins said. "If we put in the work I can see us finishing better than sixth."
South Lenoir was selected to finish last in the poll with 7 points. Blue Devils coach Jeremy Joyner said the team has to prove itself to change perceptions this season.
"This is one of the hardest conferences and there are a lot of good teams playing at a high level," Joyner said. "Hopefully our guys will be motivated, but until we can prove something different this is where we're going to be selected."
North Lenoir senior running back/slot receiver Terrance Copper and Ayden-Grifton senior quarterback Blake McLawhorn each received two coach's votes to earn preseason co-offensive players of the year honors.
Ayden-Grifton senior linebacker Ray Darden received three votes and was named the EC2A preseason defensive player of the year, while West Craven senior defensive lineman Josh Crump garnered two votes.
Darden was one of three players at Wednesday's meeting, along with Greene Central's A.J. Dupree and North Lenoir's Ja'lyn McNeil and said he was thankful for the honor.
"I've got to let the young guys know good things can happen if they continue to work hard," Darden said.
McNeil, a running back/slot receiver for the Hawks, said he's ready for the 2018 campaign.
"We're going to be motivated for the season, but we won't put extra pressure on ourselves," McNeil said.
In an interesting twist, Dupree, a senior running back/strong safety for the Rams, received one offensive vote and one defensive vote by the league's coaches.
"It shows the hard work I've been putting in all four years have paid off, but I can't stop now," Dupree said.
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH (points, first-place votes in parentheses)
1. West Craven 32 (4)
2. Ayden-Grifton 28 (2)
3. Greene Central 28 (1)
4. Kinston 23
5. Washington 19
6. North Lenoir 10
7. South Lenoir 7
EC2A offensive player of the year voting:
Terrance Copper, North Lenoir senior running back; Blake McLawhorn, Ayden-Grifton senior quarterback -- 2 votes
A.J. Dupree, Greene Central senior running back; Jonquez Green, West Craven senior running back; Kieren Hooker, Kinston senior quarterback -- 1 vote
EC2A defensive player of the year voting:
Ray Darden, Ayden-Grifton senior linebacker -- 3 votes
Josh Crump, West Craven senior defensive lineman -- 2 votes
A.J. Dupree, Greene Central senior strong safety; Tyquan Kearny, West Craven junior linebacker