Monday, November 18, 2013

Not at the game? Then don't complain

During Friday night football games, in addition to keeping stats and sometimes shooting photographs, our reporters have now been asked to tweet live scoring updates. Usually the person on the desk, i.e., the one who remains in the office, coordinates these tweets, along with ones from other sources, and posts them to The Wilson Times Twitter and Facebook accounts.

I noticed that several people following the Hunt-Fayetteville Terry Sanford game last Friday night complained the score wasn't being posted quickly enough. Certainly, we will try to do a better job in getting these scoring updates to our audience, whom we hope will then read the entire game story in the Times or on wilsontimes.com the following day.

But here's a piece of advice for the fans who were a little impatient: Go to the game. There were less than 800 people at Hunt's home playoff game Friday and Beddingfield had less than 300 there. Did I miss something or did Wilson suddenly start having a lot of things to do on Friday night? You know, if you care enough to want constant scoring updates, then why don't you care enough to go to the game? I think it's a sad state affairs when Wilson has two home football playoff games and only a thousand people show up.

Most of the folks at the Beddingfield game where I was seemed to be parents. If the students aren't interested in watching their team play, then folks from the community probably aren't going to be either.

I hear over and over and over that there's nothing to do in Wilson. That was even more true when I was in high school some 30 years ago but the football stadium were regularly packed Friday nights, especially for playoff games. Maybe it's because today the playoffs have become so bloated in this everyone-gets-a-trophy era that they don't mean as much.

I understand if people have other plans but it seems a lot of people made other plans Friday night. The Warriors are back home this Friday against West Brunswick in the second round and, win or lose, it could be Hunt's final home game of the year. We'll be doing our best to provide scoring updates on that game, as well as Fike-Fayetteville Byrd, Beddingfield-Northeastern and Southern Nash-Eastern Wayne, but if you really want to know what's happening when it happens, here's my advice.  Buy a ticket, support the team with your presence and your financial contribution and enjoy one of the best forms of entertainment Wilson has to offer by watching a high school football game.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

EPC football could have much drama ... or not

As conference skirmishes in the 2-A Eastern Plains Conference football season begin Friday, the only surprise thus far has to be Farmville Central with a 5-0 mark. The Jaguars, with just four wins the past three seasons, were picked to finish fifth by EPC coaches in their preseason poll. And Farmville Central  might still just do that.

As for the other five EPC teams, they are about where the consensus held they should be after seven weeks. Beddingfield is 3-3 because, despite playing extremely well at times, has shot itself in the foot at other times. SouthWest Edgecombe, also 3-3, is in the same boat. Both the Bruins and Cougars have lost to some pretty good teams. The teams that have beaten Beddingfield (Southern Nash, Fike, Southern Pines Pinecrest) are a combined 18-0 and the Bruins have lost those three games by a combined 28 points.

SouthWest has lost to Southern Nash, Rocky Mount and Tarboro, which are a combined 15-3, by a total of 29 points.

It's interesting to note that Beddingfield and SouthWest tied for third in the preseason coaches poll behind favorite North Pitt and Washington. The Panthers (5-1) and Pam Pack (4-2) have shown themselves to be the top two teams in the EPC. SouthWest will have first crack at changing that dynamic Friday when the Cougars visit North Pitt.

For Beddingfield, it's about continuing the momentum from its 15-13 win at home against Hunt, the Bruins' first victory over the Warriors since a 14-13 verdict at Beddingfield in 2009. It was the second straight win for Beddingfield, which opens at winless North Johnston on Friday.

The Bruins made the fewest errors and got the win over Hunt. That's what they need to keep doing, as well as stay healthy, because Beddingfield has the most dangerous offensive weapons in the EPC with junior QB Kavajae Ellis, receivers Javius Nixon and Ajay Williams and running backs Kelvin King and Chavius Collins. King and Collins, both starting defenders, were injured and didn't finish the game against Hunt.

Beddingfield can give any team it faces fits but the Bruins also can give their head coach, Tyrone Johnson, fits. If they don't suffer any crushing injuries (and it's not known when or if King or Collins will return), they can continue to be a handful for their opponents.

SouthWest has also dealt with injuries, namely to junior halfback Devontrell Hyman, who has accumulated 511 yards on just 55 carries (9.3 average). Hyman returned to rush for 60 yards in the Cougars' 49-7 pasting of host East Carteret on Friday and if he resumes his early season form, SouthWest's offense will have its feature back. With junior Barry Smith and sophomore Marcus Williams complementing Hyman's bruising, straight-ahead style, the Cougars can keep doing what they did Friday when they piled up 450 yards on 44 rushes. SWE threw just one pass, an incompletion, because it didn't need to pass.

First-year head coach Jonathan Cobb, who has introduced some wrinkles to the wishbone attack favored by his predecessor, his father, Raymond Cobb, reverted to straight wishbone Friday. I realize East Carteret probably was ill-equipped to handle that ground-based onslaught but it might be worth taking a look at keeping the offense as streamlined as possible. The EPC is a power-rushing conference, even with teams like Beddingfield, Washington and North Johnston favoring the pass. If you have the ability to pound out yards, do it, SouthWest.

North Johnston is a pretty good 0-6 team, for whatever that's worth, but that plaudit won't make head coach Scott Meserve sleep better. The Panthers probably aren't going to win a game this season because they don't stack up well against their EPC foes in their first year in the conference. But North Johnston has some playmakers in senior wideout Trey Daniels and senior QB Montie Walker, along with RB Quamel Kenion. The Panthers also have size on their lines and, if they play better on special teams, limit their turnovers (an area-worst minus-10 in ratio) and curtail debilitating penalties, maybe they'll surprise someone.

I'm going out on a limb and sticking with the coaches in their preseason poll. North Pitt should win and Washington will finish second. The most interesting game of the season is probably the week 12 battle between Beddingfield and SouthWest in Pinetops that should decide third place. Of course, if the Bruins or Cougars can surprise either North Pitt or Washington, they could get at least a share of the title.

And of course, nobody better sleep on Farmville Central.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Big East as hard to call now as in preseason

It's hard to believe that we are seven weeks into the high school football season, especially with the temperature hovering near 90 degrees in the first week in October, but now we have just five very important weeks to go.

As the three Wilson County teams prepare for their conference openers Friday — Fike and Hunt in the 3-A Big East and Beddingfield in the 2-A Eastern Plains — it's time to look back and ahead.

Starting with the Big East, which has the only two area teams with perfect records in Fike and Southern Nash. And wouldn't you know, the Golden Demons and Firebirds are on a collision course this week in Fike's Buddy Bedgood Stadium on Tyson Jennette Field. A perfect way to start the conference run!

First off, Fike is the big "surprise" of the year with a 6-0 mark after winning just two games last year and six the last two years combined. But the Demons are no mirage as their potent offense is averaging nearly 400 yards per game. Most of that production has come from speedy, elusive junior Anthony Evans (905 yards, 9 TDs) and bruising, powerful sophomore A.J. Hines (512 yards, 10 TDs). Of course, Fike has had solid blocking and sophomore QB D.J. Daniels (37 for 55, 570 yards, 8 TDs, 1 INT) has been steady.

Defensively, the Demons done the job as well, posting two shutouts. But Fike is allowing 159 yards per game through the air, compared to just 100 on the ground. That's one indicator that pass defense is where Fike has struggled — at times. Witness the numbers put up by spread foes Kinston, Beddingfield and South Johnston, albeit all during late comeback attempts. That also shows that Fike has been most vulnerable defensively through the air.

The good news for the Demons is that none of their Big East opponents rely mostly on the pass. Certainly not the Firebirds, who have dealt with what should be crippling injuries to their offensive backfield this season.

Southern Nash has lost the services of five halfbacks who could be the featured ball carriers for many offenses. Yet, the Firebirds continue to motor along, doing just enough each week to get the win. And that comes with a minus-7 turnover ratio that would keep most teams below .500.

However, bad habits and bad luck will catch up with a team in time and Southern Nash will have to get healthy in the backfield. The good news from Friday's 24-23 win at Tarboro, probably its most impressive victory this season, is that junior Zimonia Knight played for the first time all season. Knight, who suffered a calf injury in the preseason jamboree, had just 2 yards on two carries and is not 100 percent but at this point, Firebirds head coach Brian Foster will take what he can get. Grant Jones (ACL) and promising sophomore Jaquay Mitchell (knee) are done for the season while junior Clinton Whitaker and senior Taylor Finch are battling injuries.

It's a good thing Southern Nash has Richard Hall, one of the top candidates for Big East player of the year, to pick up the slack. Hall, primarily a slotback on offense and the top defensive back, has 450 yards in spot duty at halfback.

Hunt, the Big East coaches' preseason pick to win its fifth conference title, has been the hardest team to get a bead on. The Warriors, under first-year head coach Stevie Hinnant, have at times dazzled and other times sputtered. There have been underlying reasons for the latter, such as injuries and a tough schedule, but the simple fact is that the Warriors haven't been 3-3 since 2009. But Hunt ended up 9-4 and went 5-0 in the Big East, winning the first of four straight conference championships.

So, what will the Warriors do this time? That answer might come in the form of who will lead them on offense. Sophomore Jacob Williamson started at quarterback for the first six games but in the Warriors' 15-13 loss at Beddingfield in their last game,  he was replaced by junior Justin Jefferson, who had never played the position in two-plus varsity seasons. Jefferson, a starting cornerback and receiver, was somewhat effective in moving the offense so he might be part of the plan going forward.

But what Hunt does have, like Fike with Evans and Hines, is a pair of game-breakers in senior Dexter Wright (655 yards) and sophomore Darius Barnes (573 yards). Wright is also the leader of the Hunt defense, a 6-foot-3, 215-pound free safety with sub-4.4 speed who has verbally committed to N.C. State.

Right now, Hunt needs to find some consistency on offense, work towards getting Barnes and Wright the ball as much as possible and pull together and realize the season is far from over. The frustration of three losses in six games is evident for players who suffered just two losses over the past two seasons, both coming to eventual state 3-AA champion Northern Guilford in the Eastern championship game.

The Warriors will begin Big East play in the most anticipated matchup perhaps in program history Friday night when they venture to Northern Nash's "Death Valley." The Knights have won three straight after an 0-3 start but that's not why this game is so big. It's the first time Randy Raper will be standing on the other side of the field for Hunt. Raper, of course, left Hunt after 22 seasons and 203 wins last December for a new challenge at Northern. He'll have it Friday night.

With Rocky Mount looming as a potential Big East champion and Nash Central, despite being winless, possessing the capability of beating anyone on any given night, what do I think will happen in the Big East? I think nobody will go unbeaten and there's a good chance five teams will make the playoffs. How's that?

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Neither Warriors nor others overwhelming at Cleveland scrimmage

High school football scrimmages can be useful in evaluating teams and players but you have to take them with a grain of salt. It's difficult to know how players will react in live game situations and to momentum, either positive or negative.

That having been said, I came away from Friday morning's three-team scrimmage at Cleveland with Hunt and Fayetteville Terry Sanford without a sense of being overwhelmed by anyone. Well, I was slightly impressed with the size of several of the Terry Sanford players. As far as Hunt and Cleveland, neither the Warriors nor the Rams resembled the squads that took to the field for the third round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 3-AA playoffs last November. Granted, I was there mainly to take photos and didn't keep any stats or notes other than the mental ones I was making, but here are my observations:

• Hunt needs to work on snapping and handing off the ball. Numerous fumbles on exchanges were easily the biggest problem the Warriors had. But those usually get fixed in short order.
• There are some young ball carriers for Hunt that could be big-time players by November. However, I don't think any of them will make Warriors fans forget Josh Joyner any time soon. Senior Dexter Wright showed some runner's instincts as well. At 6-foot-3, Dexter reminds me of Kelvin Bryant as he slashes his way through the secondary.
• Hunt sophomore QB Jacob Williamson proved tough to sack but he always showed a tendency to run into trouble rather than away from it at times. Still, it will be fun watching him develop.
• While Wright's presence is a constant in the Hunt secondary, the Warriors will need some other defenders to step up and assert themselves, especially on the line. I liked the hustle of Aaron Smith and certainly Ervin Speight is going to be around the ball and Malik Williams is a big-time corner but Hunt's brand is built on D and those kids are going to have to live up to that. The unit played well overall but gave up too many big plays and hung its head at times.
• While I wasn't blown away by Hunt (and I wasn't expecting to be at a 9 a.m. scrimmage), I also thought Cleveland was a ways from where the Rams were last year. Isaac Martin (I'm guessing that No. 3 at QB) is still a big threat but the Rams struggled with execution, not surprising in that spread offense. I guess when it's working well, it's hard to stop but in mid-August, the power running game is going to be more impressive.
• Yes, those Terry Sanford kids were big but that's not surprising given the Bulldogs are moving down from the 4-A Mid-South Conference to the 3-A Cape Fear Valley Conference and — hello! — it's Fayetteville. They're always big down there.
• Having seen a glimpse of Hunt, I think the Warriors can be very good again but probably not where they were the past three years. If they can beat Southern Nash, they can be Big East champions again. Wilmington New Hanover in week 3 will be a tough opponent and a long stretch of road games will be hard on the players. If I had to guess, I'll say Hunt will go 9-2.
• I really like morning football. I just wish they had coffee for sale at Cleveland.

Friday, July 12, 2013

County varsity football schedules unveiled

Below are the 2013 varsity football schedules for Beddingfield, Fike and Hunt. The county trio will have significant road trips but none more so than Hunt, which on weeks 3 and 4 will total more than 400 miles on trips to Elizabeth City Northeastern and Currituck County. That will be part of a stretch of five consecutive away games for the (road) Warriors. In fact, with an open date Oct. 4, Warrior Stadium will be dark for six straight Fridays.

The good news for Hunt is that in 2014, the schedule will flip-flop and the Warriors will be at home for five games in a row.

Of course, the most anticipated game of the year for Hunt will be Oct. 11 at Northern Nash where former Warriors head coach Randy Raper is now in charge of the Knights.

Fike has away non-conference outings at Bunn, Roanoke Rapids, Smithfield-Selma and South Johnston (Four Oaks) while Beddingfield will venture to Washington, new to the 2-A Eastern Plains Conference, on Oct. 25.

Aug. 23    Greene Central
Aug. 29    @ Southern Nash
Sept. 6      Southern Pines Pinecrest
Sept. 13    @ Fike
Sept. 20    @ Nash Central
Sept. 27    Hunt
Oct. 4        OPEN
Oct. 11     @ North Johnston*
Oct. 18     North Pitt*
Oct. 25     @ Washington*
Nov. 1      Farmville Central*
Nov. 6      @ SouthWest Edgecombe*

* 2-A Eastern Plains Conference game

Aug. 23   @ Bunn
Aug. 29   @ Roanoke Rapids
Sept. 6     Kinston
Sept. 13   Beddingfield
Sept. 20   @ Smithfield-Selma
Sept. 27   @ South Johnston
Oct. 4      OPEN
Oct. 11    Southern Nash*
Oct. 18    @ Nash Central*
Oct. 25    Rocky Mount*
Nov. 1     @ Northern Nash*
Nov. 8     Hunt*

* 3-A Big East Conference game

Aug. 23   South Central
Aug. 29   Hertford County
Sept. 6     Wilmington New Hanover
Sept. 13   @ Elizabeth City Northeastern
Sept. 20   @ Currituck County
Sept. 27   @ Beddingfield
Oct. 4       OPEN
Oct. 11     @ Northern Nash*
Oct. 18     @ Rocky Mount*
Oct. 25     Southern Nash*
Nov. 1      Nash Central*
Nov. 8      @ Fike*

* 3-A Big East Conference game

High school football scrimmage dates announced

OK, people, it's the middle of July and it's time to start thinking about — what else? Football!

Here are the preseason scrimmage dates for the eight high schools in The Wilson Times readership area. The starting times are subject to change and, if they do, I'll try to update that info.

The 2013 season will begin officially on Aug. 23.

Beddingfield: @ East Duplin, Saturday, Aug. 10, 6 p.m.

Fike: Fike jamboree (with, to date, Charles B. Aycock, Jacksonville Northside, Louisburg and James Kenan), Friday, Aug. 16, 7 p.m.

Hunt: @ Cleveland, Friday, Aug. 16, 6 p.m.

Greene Central: @ Edenton, Saturday, Aug. 10, TBA; @ Southern Wayne, Friday, Aug. 16, 6 p.m.

North Johnston: @ Ayden-Grifton, Saturday, Aug. 10, 6 p.m.; @ Corinth Holders, Friday, Aug. 16, 7 p.m.

Southern Nash: @ Nash Central (Nash County jamboree), Thursday, Aug. 15, 6 p.m.

SouthWest Edgecombe: @ Tarboro jamboree, Friday, Aug. 16, 6 p.m.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Wolfpack's amazing championship still inspires 30 years later

Thirty years ago tonight, nearly to the minute, I — and thousands of others — experienced a moment as  sports fans that we will never forget.
Whether you were a fan of the N.C. State men's basketball team, you will always remember the way the Wolfpack defeated top-ranked and heavily-favored Houston 54-52 to win the NCAA championship. When Dereck Whittenburg's shot went up from 30-plus feet with 5 seconds to go, who really thought that Lorenzo Charles was waiting under the rainbow to dunk the ball and with it, Phi Slamma Jamma's dream of a national title.
Through ESPN's 30 for 30 presentation on the '83 Wolfpack, "Survive and Advance," I've been able to relive so many moments of State's magical run that culminated April 4, 1983, in Albuquerque, N.M.
I was a junior in high school, an unabashed State fan and can clearly remember so many of those games, how unbelievable the outcomes were but also, how I slowly began to think that winning the NCAA championship was the Wolfpack's destiny.
After all, State had a pretty good team at the beginning of the year but lost Whittenburg to a broken foot against Atlantic Coast Conference favorite Virginia and the mighty Ralph Sampson in January. When Whittenburg returned near the end of the regular season, the rest of the Wolfpack had learned to play without him.
The first instance State was going to be a factor was when it scored 130 points on senior day against Wake Forest in Reynolds Coliseum in the final regular-season game. Then the 'Pack needed Charles to hit 1 of 2 free throws in the final seconds to escape the Demon Deacons 71-70 in the first round of the ACC tournament.
After State toppled defending NCAA champion North Carolina, led by Michael Jordan and Sam Perkins, in the ACC semifinals, the 'Pack still had to beat Sampson and UVA in the championship game — and they did.
Perhaps the only time in State's run that I didn't think it was going to win came in its NCAA opener against Pepperdine in Corvallis, Ore. I stayed up late, on a Friday night I think, to watch. Somehow the Wolfpack turned around a late six-point deficit, went to overtime, then another overtime before winning.
In the final against Houston, which had just defeated Louisville in the most breathtaking college basketball game ever played in the national semifinals, I remember thinking that State was going to win. I didn't know how, because Houston had Akeem Abdul Olajuwon (as he was then called) and Clyde Drexler, but I knew they were going to win.
Several of us gathered at the home of one of our Hunt baseball teammates to watch the championship game. We were on spring break but those of us who played baseball had to stay in town for the Breakfast Optimist Easter Tournament in Fleming Stadium before we could head to Atlantic Beach for the rest of break.
Most of us were State fans but a couple were Carolina fans —who were rooting for the 'Pack just as hard as anyone — as we watched the tense game unfold.
As Whittenburg's shot was calmly collected and dunked by Charles, who seemed to be the only guy on the court who realized the buzzer hadn't sounded, there was a split second as everyone in the room processed what had happened. Then we converged in a joyous group hug that miraculously didn't break anything in my friend's living room (although his father was right in the middle of the jubilant scrum).
I didn't even see State coach Jim Valvano's famous dash around the court looking for somebody to hug because we were all hugging each other.
In my 40 or so years of watching sports, as a fan and a writer, I've yet to experience anything to top State's amazing run. Of course, Barton's march to the NCAA Division II title in 2007, along with the finish of the Bulldogs' championship game win over Winona State, was just as enthralling but I can't say it was better than State's run.
So much importance is placed on sports in our society. It's hard to consider a game more viable than real life and I've long tried to maintain that perspective. But sometimes things happen in the sporting world that provides a glimpse of something greater than the game or even day-to-day life.
As I look back on that unforgettable, incredible run, it seems even more unbelievable now. But it happened. It really did happen.
As Valvano said during a speech in Reynolds Coliseum celebrating the 10th anniversary of that title run shortly before his death in 1993, the most important thing he learned from that team was how much those guys loved each other.
Maybe that's the reason behind their miraculous run, I don't know. But I do know that miracles like the '83 Wolfpack and the '07 Bulldogs can happen and they will probably happen again.
And when they do, they'll enrich everyone who pays attention, just like the Wolfpack did 30 years ago tonight.

Friday, March 15, 2013

My first March madness memories

As I sit on the couch and bite into one frozen Thin Mint after another and watch replay after replay of all the conference tournament action, I'm reminded of how exciting this time of year has always been. Spring is forcing its way onstage, often pushing winter off, and daffodils and Bradford pears are the visual elements that change is taking place. Baseball season, gloriously, tunes up backstage as the main act in March — college basketball — rides to its thrilling denouement.

I remember standing in the kitchen of my parents' house when I was about 14, biting into a Thin Mint while the NCAA tournament was on television after I had come back from an impromptu batting practice with some future Coon Middle School baseball teammates and thinking: “Man, this is my favorite time of year.”

There's something special about college basketball in March that just isn't found in any other sport. Maybe it's the short-lived nature of the careers that creates the emotional tie. Four years, at most, and then it's done. I used to get sad watching seniors from teams I didn't really care about like Clemson or Maryland walk off the court when their team had lost in the ACC tournament because I knew that was likely the last time I'd see them. It was much worse when the seniors on my team finished their careers. I began life as an N.C. State fan because the Wolfpack's 1974 NCAA championship is my first real sports memory. I was 8 and didn't care much about sports. Didn't play them for a recreation team (because then you had to be in third grade and I was in second grade) or really in the yard. Especially didn't like watching them on TV, although more often than not on a Saturday afternoon, ACC basketball was the only option my dad allowed on the tube.

Despite my reluctance as a sports fan, I was caught up in the 1974 Wolfpack and their great star, David Thompson. My father loved State and so did I and I especially loved DT, who seemed so shy and unassuming but was Superman, Michael Jackson and The Beatles, all rolled into one skinny, 6-foot-4  kid in low-top sneakers. 

I don't remember actually watching any games, even though I know I did, but I do recall the apprehension that pulsed through the state when Thompson crashed to the floor of Reynolds Coliseum during the first round of the NCAA tournament (which is amazing enough that State played at home in the NCAA tournament) and landed on his head. He ended up being taken to the hospital and then returning, to deafening cheers, to watch the rest of the Wolfpack's win over Providence.

I don't think I watched State's epic dethroning of UCLA and Bill Walton, but I did read The News and Observer's coverage on it over and over. I was confused that State still had to play one more game to win the championship and didn't see a second of that game, since my bedtime was at 8 p.m., an hour before tipoff.

I became a more involved fan the next season as I hoped Thompson, Monte Towe and the 'Pack would win it all again — this time with me watching. But it was not to be as the Wolfpack was stopped in the ACC tournament championship game by upstart North Carolina and its fabulous freshman point guard Phil Ford.

And that was the end of State's season and Thompson's career as the Wolfpack turned down a bid to the NIT. I still remember watching The Norm Sloan Show and crying as they ran a video montage in tribute to the seniors to the song, “He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother.”

Although I hated Phil Ford that night, I had no problem rooting for the Tar Heels in the NCAA tournament, where they lost to Syracuse in the second round. That's just the way it was then, at least for me.

From the time I first got a taste of March madness 39 years ago, it's still my favorite time of the year.

Do you have a memory of when March madness began for you? I'd love to hear it.

Now where are those Thin Mints?  

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

College career looks to be done for UNC Asheville's Atkinson

Jeremy Atkinson's college basketball career appears to be over as his UNC Asheville Bulldogs were spilled 87-72 by lowly Longwood (as in 8-24 lowly) in the first round of the Big South Conference tournament Tuesday.

UNC Asheville, once 15-10 and on top in the Big South, lost six of its last seven to finish 16-16. Not sure if the Bulldogs will get a chance to play again in CollegeInsider.com or College Basketball Invitational postseason tournaments but their opportunity for a third straight NCAA appearance is null and void.

Atkinson, Fike High School's all-time career scoring leader with 2,001 points, led the Bulldogs with 19 points and 11 rebounds in what looks like his final college game. He did, however, get named to the All-Big South first team earlier in the week.

I hope to get a chance to chat with Jeremy tomorrow to talk about his two seasons with the Bulldogs after transferring from Louisburg as a JUCO All-American and his plans for the future.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Hesmer officially retires from pro soccer

It's official. Former Hunt High and Wake Forest star William Hesmer is retiring from professional soccer.
Hesmer texted me the news Wednesday, two days after Clemente Lisi reported it on USSoccerPlayers.com. Hesmer started for the Columbus Crew for the past nine seasons but spent most of last year out with a hip injury. He was chosen by the Los Angeles Galaxy in the re-entry draft after Columbus did not renew his option.
Hesmer helped the Crew win the Supporters Shield (for best regular-season record) and the MLS Cup in 2008.
He began his career with the then Kansas City Wizards.
What's next for the 31-year-old?
Tune in next week as I hope to chat with him about his career and his future plans, which include wedding bells!

Friday, January 18, 2013

A few more things about Raymond Cobb you might not know

Former SouthWest Edgecombe High head football coach Raymond Cobb was kind enough to sit down with me this week to reminisce about his 33-year teaching and coaching career, which will come to an end Jan. 31 when he retires. Of course, I don't expect him to be a total stranger since he plans on functioning as an advisor/assistant to his son, Jonathan, who will take over the Cougars varsity edition in the fall.

The elder Cobb spent nearly two hours telling story after story about his illustrious career, which included N.C. High School Athletic Association 1-A championships in 1994 and 1997 at North Edgecombe. My story on him in Thursday's edition of The Wilson Times covered a lot of ground but there were a few things I didn't include.

So here they are:

• Cobb was the head coach at North Edgecombe from 1988 to 2003 and served as J.V. head coach from 1981 to 1983 and varsity assistant from 1981 to 1987. He succeeded Tom Collins as Warriors head coach. Collins, who was head coach for one season, would go on to become athletic director at Campbell University and Brevard College.

• At North Edgecombe, Cobb's teams never lost a state playoff game at home.

• His 1996 North Edgecombe team ran for 5,980 yards, which is still an NCHSAA record.

• Milton Shaw, Cobb's star running back from 1989 to 1991, was named The Associated Press Player of the Year in 1991. The only Warrior to achieve that distinction. Shaw also holds the state record for consecutive games of rushing for 100 or more yards with 24.

• In 1992 and 1994, North Edgecombe tied a state record shared by many by not allowing a single first down in a game, both times against Jamesville.

• Cobb's famous wishbone offense was developed from University of Colorado's I-bone attack in the early 1990s. Cobb wrote to then Buffaloes head coach Bill McCartney, who sent him a playbook. The Warriors didn't make the switch to the wishbone until 1994, the year of their first state championship.

• Cobb's quarterback at North Edgecombe in 1993, Tyrice Pittman, threw for 2,332 yards, which is probably more than his half of teams nine teams at SouthWest combined threw for.

• Only Jimmy Tillman, SouthWest's second football coach who was there for 11 seasons, led the Cougars longer than Cobb.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Will the Thrill indeed

Will Privette has gained instant fame for being toppled from his wheelchair during the N.C. State students' mad dash onto the court in PNC Arena following the No. 20-ranked Wolfpack's toppling of No. 1 Duke on Saturday.

Hey, he even got a story in The Wilson Times! But that's only right since Will has been a contributor to the Times since he was barely a teenager, writing features and columns on the Carolina Mudcats. His family owned the land on which Five County Stadium is built and Will has been a fixture there since he was born.

When I interviewed him for the story, I reminded him that he won't be able to storm the court once he's a journalist (and he will make an outstanding one should he choose that career path). Will might think about publishing a tutorial on the proper way to storm a court and avoid a scary moment like that one. Good thing Wolfpack star C.J. Leslie was able to scoop him up before he got trampled!

Here's the footage Will took of his thrilling ride just before it the wave of pandemonium crashed into him (actually it was Pack freshman Rodney Purvis but you get the point).

Friday, January 4, 2013

Hinnant an easy choice for Hunt job

The announcement Thursday by Hunt High Principal Jerry Simmons that Stevie Hinnant would be the school's next — and fifth — varsity football head coach really comes as no surprise. That is, at least since Randy Raper's shocking announcement two weeks ago that he was leaving Hunt after 22 seasons and head coach to take the job at Northern Nash.

Hinnant, the school's athletic director, was the assistant head coach and had been the offensive coordinator since 2002 and basically has been at Hunt, well, forever. He and I walked through the doors as freshmen in the waning days of summer in 1980 and, except for two years while he was a student at Atlantic Christian (now Barton) College, Stevie has been a Warrior. Heck, he was a Warrior the day, probably in sixth grade, he found out Rock Ridge High was turning into an elementary school and he would go to Hunt. As a ninth-grade football teammate at Hunt, I seem to recall there being some jests made that he would probably end up being the football coach there one day. Well, 33 years later, here we are.

I still remember him shoving a wad of Skoal in his mouth before football practice and thinking he was plumb crazy. Remember, this was well before tobacco prohibition on school campuses or during athletic events. It was one thing to stick in a chaw for baseball but another to have tobacco in one's mouth (and Skoal no less!) while playing football.

But Stevie was a little bit crazy back then and he had to be. He was an undersized linebacker at maybe 5-foot-8 and 150 pounds soaking wet, but daggone if he wouldn't do just about anything to drag somebody to the ground. And that team, with Stevie right in the middle of the defense, our senior year (I was just a spectator by then) in 1983 went 12-2, winning the Big East Conference title and making it to the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4-A Eastern final before losing to a Fayetteville Byrd team with future NFL players Donnell Woolford and Brad Edwards, among others.

As a head coach Hinnant's got a deep legacy to meet in Raper, who had one losing season out of 22 and won 203 games. But Hinnant has been there nearly every step of the way. In fact, he got to Hunt as a ninth-grader a year before Raper started working there. So perhaps a bit of the credit for all those winning seasons should go to Hinnant.

For a 35-year-old program to only have four head coaches is remarkable, especially considering two of the coaches were one-and-dones. Give Bill Williamson credit for building the foundation and Raper credit for putting up the sides and the roof. Now maybe Hinnant will be the one to put the finishing touches on it and get the one thing the program still doesn't have — a state championship.

He'll have plenty of time because Stevie Hinnant will more than likely be at Hunt for the duration, either his or the school's!