Time to turn on the lights

Published 8:57 pm Thursday, August 18, 2011

Riverside quarterback Matt Wisniewski

The 2011 prep season kicks off tonight and all six area teams have exciting storylines spiraling around them.
In Washington, eighth-year coach Sport Sawyer is waiting to see how his offense reacts to the shift from an I-formation attack to a spread one, while on defense it must find a way to fill the shoes of graduated WDN All-Area first-teamers Marquin Hill and Kevin Chapman.
While the Pam Pack is transitioning from being an under-center team to the spread one, Northside is doing the exact opposite as coach Keith Boyd is looking for his Panthers to be a ground-and-pound team this season.
Across town, Southside is gearing up for its second season under old/new coach DeWayne Kellum, who is entering the second year of his second stint with the Seahawks. With a full offseason under his belt, Kellum has Southside looking to improve on its 9-4 season of a year ago.
The Seahawks will have stiff competition in the Four Rivers Conference this year as they must contend with area powers Plymouth and Riverside. The Vikings are coming off of a 13-2 season but must replace its entire starting backfield, which was lead by WDN Offensive Player of the Year Ronnell Blount.
The Knights also must replace a star offensive player as two-time WDN all-area first team QB Luke Mathews has graduated. In head coach Asim McGill’s shot-run offense a lot is asked of the quarterback, but the luckily the Knights have 6-foot-8-inch wideout Marcus Freeman to help aid the transition.
Riverside rival South Creek figures to be much improved this season. Last year, under first-year coach Jeremy Jones, the newly formed Cougars went 0-11 in their inaugural year. Coach after coach threw up their support for Jones stating that his team was much better than its record. Heading into the 2011 season, there is no doubt the Cougars will erase the doughnut that resides in the school’s win column, it’s just a question of when and how many times it will happen.
With those questions in mind, here’s a look at the Week 1 matchups:

Washington (2010: 5-7) at North Pitt (2010: 5-7)
Key losses: RB/DB William Ellegor, RB/DL Marquin Hill
Key Returners: QB Jimmy Williams, MLB Jacquez Columbus
Head coach: Sport Sawyer, eighth year
Washington’s new spread offense will debut on the road tonight against North Pitt (Eastern Plains Conference) as the Pam Pack clash with the Panthers. In an effort to make the team more balanced on offense and to take advantage of QB Jimmy Williams athletic ability, Washington head coach Sport Sawyer changed from an I offense to a spread and so far he likes what he has seen.
“Offensively, Jimmy has worked real well and the offensive line is jelling and so are our receivers and running backs,” Sawyer said. “We are still trying to put some of the pieces of the puzzle together, but so far going from the I to the spread is something I’m very excited about.”
While Washington’s base defense hasn’t changed, the players who execute it have as the Pack returns only three starters on that side of the ball. Leading the D is MLB Jacquez Columbus, and he and the Pack must stop North Pitt’s power attack.
“We saw them over the summer in our passing league and they run a power I offense, but they also split time at quarterback,” Sawyer said. “They got one quarterback that is more of a pocket-type guy and one guy who is an athlete and they spread things around a little bit.”
Washington finished 5-7 last year and Sawyer said he is placing the pressure on himself and the team to top that mark in 2011.

North Duplin (2010: 5-8) at Southside (2010: 9-4)
Key losses: OL/DL T.J Jordan, LB Treyshon Blount
Key returners: QB Terrill Moore, LB Johnny Pender
Head coach: DeWayne Kellum, second year
For the third year in a row quarterback Terrill Moore will take the snaps for Southside as it kicks off the season against North Duplin (Carolina Conference) at home tonight.
Moore has excelled in previous coach David Hines’ spread offense in 2009, as well as DeWayne Kellum’s wing-T attack in 2010. This year, Moore will get to run a little bit of both for the Seahawks as Kellum has been able to install both looks this summer.
“We got a lot more packages in on offense and defense, but it just doesn’t seem like we’re hungry yet,” Kellum said. “We need to be more physical tackling and we need to be in better shape, we’re still not in game shape.”
Southside will need to be physical tonight as it takes on a North Duplin team that likes to run the football.
“They’re a veer-option team and they will run it out of the wishbone and spread,” Kellum said. “They have two good looking fullbacks and both their interior linebackers look sharp. … We’re going to have to play assignment football to shut down that quarterback on the option and then chase down that tailback.”

Ayden-Grifton (2010: 10-4) at Riverside (2010: 10-3)
Key losses: LB Cam Price, QB Luke Mathews
Key Returners: WR Ramelle Lanier, LB Thurman Collier
Head coach: Asim McGill, sixth year
Riverside will start the 2011 season facing a solid Ayden-Grifton team, which like the Knights, won 10 games last season.
Junior Matt Wiseniewski will get his first varsity start at quarterback for Riverside and he is surrounded by playmakers as the electric Ramelle Lanier and the 6-8 Marcus Freeman may be the best wide receiver tandem around.
Giving those guys time to make plays will be the offensive line, which, led by Bryce Modlin, drew praise from McGill for their participation in summer workouts in the offseason.
While the offense looks extremely explosive, McGill said that heading into the opener that the defense was the strength of the team.
“Based on the preseason I think that defensively our front seven played pretty good. Our secondary is kind of young but they played pretty good,” McGill said. “I’m hoping early in the year the defense will carry us a little bit.”
They will need both units to perform on Friday in order to top Ayden-Grifton.
“There a team that went to the third round of the playoffs last year,” McGill said. “They have a lot of guys returning and to me I think it’s a great matchup early in the season. In 1-A football in the east I think it’s a big time matchup.”
One question mark for the Knights, and all the other area teams, will be the play of their special teams. During scrimmages, the special teams aspect is skipped, making tonight the first time those units will play against real opponent.

Plymouth (2010: 13-2) at Farmville Central (2010: 2-9)
Key losses: RB Ronnell Blount, OL Paris Palmer
Key Returners: RB Davonte Bland, DB/RB Kendrick Pitts
Head coach: Robert Cody, 28th year
Plymouth marched all the way to the NCHSAA 1A East Regional round of the playoffs behind a stellar backfield that consisted of Ronnell Blount, Elmer Cooper and Dylan Watts. This year, head coach Robert Cody is hoping that the combination of Davonte Bland, Kendrick Pitts and Quadry Pettiford can pickup where their predecessors left off.
By all means the Vikings should be in rebuilding mode, except they have a great history of reloading on the fly and not missing a beat.
Plymouth will start the season off on the road facing a Farmville Central team that struggled in 2010, but will no-doubt be looking to make a name for themselves in this year’s opener.

Creswell at Northside (2010:3-10)
Key losses: RB Demarquez Martin, OL Lenny Chavez
Key returners: TE/LB Willie LaBarge, OL/LB Alonzo Mendoza
Head coach: Keith Boyd, sixth year
It’s a new season and a new look for Northside as its wing-T offense will debut tonight at home against Creswell. Panthers’ coach Keith Boyd went to the wing-T late last season and liked what he saw enough to stick with it.
With only five seniors, Northside fields a young team but it’s the Panthers’ youthful optimism that Boyd cited as its strength.
“Because we are so young we don’t remember anything bad,” Boyd said. “Our JV team had a pretty good year and both our JV teams had pretty good years. They’re coming in with a lot of enthusiasm and the seniors are being good leaders.”
On offense, Northside will have to account for the loss of star RB Demarquez Martin, but Boyd is hoping that a group effort can help replace his production.
Leading that offense will be sophomore Antonio Woods, who impressed his coach during the preseason.
“He looked good,” Boyd said. “We’re bouncing back and forth from the wing-T to the spread … and he’s handled it really well. He’s got some work to do on his reads but when it comes down to it he is there every day and working hard.”

South Creek (2010: 0-11) vs. North Edgecombe (2010: 8-4)
Key losses: OL Chuck Allen, RB/LB Lonnie Williams
Key returners: WR Reginald Parker, QB Zack Phelps
Head coach: Jeremy Jones, second year
After going winless in 2010, second-year coach Jeremy Jones and his Cougars will no doubt be playing with a chip on their shoulders this year. Heading into his second season, Jones has had more time with his team this summer, which should payoff on the field. South Creek has shifted from a 3-4 defense to a 4-2-5 and has tweaked his triple-option offense to include a variety of different looks.
Leading that triple option will be QB Zach Phelps, whose ability to run the offense will allow former quarterback Reginald Parker to move to wideout.
“Zack’s not a phenomenal athlete but he is the kind of guy who gets the ball to the right people at the right time,” Jones said. “Last year he was a sophomore called up to varsity for a few games, but this year I think he has learned to take things as they come. He’s a smart kid, if it’s not there he won’t force it.”
Despite the team’s lack of success in 2010, Jones said his team’s goals remain the same as anyone else’s.
“We talked about wanted to compete for a conference championship,” Jones said. “I know that sounds like crazy talk to anyone outside our program but we were not as bad as our record showed last year … we just had a few mental lapses in games, but I feel like we are strong at every position.”