2018 Pigskin Preview: Ayden-Grifton
AYDEN -- Last year, the Ayden-Grifton Chargers were 6-3 and had just beaten Kinston. They looked as if they were going to be the team to beat in the Eastern Carolina 2A. However, three straight conference losses to end the season plus a first-round playoff loss against Wallace-Rose Hill put those dreams to rest.
Now entering his 30th year as a coach, and his 14th year as head coach at A-G, Paul Cornwell hopes to extend the Chargers’ streak of 17 straight years in the state playoffs in an 18th year with a young roster.
“We have a lot of young players. They are very committed. These guys have been coming out to all of the practices this summer and are dedicated to winning,” Cornwell said.
Cornwell, since taking over from coach B.T. Chappell in 2005, has a record of 118-56 at Ayden-Grifton with a state championship final played in 2011.
“One of the things about this team is that there isn’t any one place where we are better than another. We are a very balanced team. We’re strong up front on defense. We’ve got good speed in the secondary. We have a lot of weapons on offense we can use,” Cornwell said.
The veteran coach thinks his team's youth could be an advantage.
“They put in their time," he said. "They are hungry. We have good depth, but the key to the season is to stay healthy. This is a tough conference and there isn’t going to be a whole lot of difference between top and bottom teams this season. If we can stay healthy and play smart, we should be right where we need to be. We have high expectations for these kids.
A-G has some players to watch this season. Ray Darden is entering his senior year, playing linebacker and running back for the Chargers.
“His leadership is a big key for us. He is the leader on the defense. He is big and physical. He is a third year starter. He is someone our younger guys can look up to,” Cornwell said.
Darden predicts a successful season for his team.
"We got a lot of young guys coming in," he said. "They play hard. We’re gonna have great year."
Senior Antonio Jones is the Chargers’ starting defensive end.
“He’s got great speed coming on the outside. He can disrupt a lot of plays up front. We’re also going to try him out at receiver for the first time this year,” Cornwell said of Jones.
Jones said he expects to be a leader, along with his fellow seniors.
“Our strength comes from us seniors," he said. "There are a lot of new players. We have to lead by example and bring them with us. We have to show them the way to play hard."
Cornwell also praised utility player Michael Webb.
“He’s our defensive back. He’s got a lot of explosive speed. He’s also going to be our top receiver and our special teams returner. He’s got some great hands to match his speed.”