WHITEVILLE — Whiteville football coach Luke Little knows that having his school right near the main routs in town can be a positive. Players can walk to practice, eliminating the need for ride arrangements and also allowing visitors easy access.
But when the fall comes, it can also be a curse.
“Sometimes I pull up there and hide my truck in between two buildings so that 20 people don’t stop by and I can get done what I need to get done,” Little joked during the conference’s media day.
With limited losses and a senior-heavy team, the reigning Three Rivers Conference champions are once again considered the favorites although no media or coaches polls were taken. Whiteville is ranked in the top ten of several polls around state.
The Wolfpack have drawn large numbers this fall, averaging 93 players for workouts. It’s more than triple what some of the other teams in the conference have brought to practice.
“We’ve got 23 seniors which is the most I’ve ever had,” Little said. “Hopefully we can get them going in the right direction.”
The Wolfpack will be building off of last year’s season, which ended with a 17-7 loss to eventual Class 1-AA state champion James Kenan in the third round of the playoffs. It was the fewest points Kenan scored and the school’s smallest margin of victory in the entire tournament.
“I felt like we were 10 points away from being able to play for a state championship last year,” Little said. “We played James Kenan about as tough as you can play them and then they don’t even get any competition in the state championship, so our kids have taken pride in that.”
Whiteville’s limited losses include Tyqwann McDougal, who ran for more than 1,000 yards last season, two all-conference defensive backs and quarterback Dylan Williams.
It’s a rare carryover in the conference, which only has three returning coaches from last season, including Little, Fairmont’s Randy Ragland and St. Pauls’ Trey Sasser.
New coaches include former Lumberton assistants Ron Cook at Red Springs and Clay Jernigan at South Robeson, as well as West Columbus’ Jason Jones, South Columbus’ Kyle Hutchinson and Rocky Lewis at East Columbus.
Hutchinson, who was an assistant at Richmond last year, takes over a team that won the conference championship and was the only conference loss for Whiteville.
“South Columbus has great tradition, that’s one of the things I’ve learned,” he said.
The Stallions aren’t expected to change their defense, other than “a few tweaks and turns for teams that throw the ball every down,” Hutchinson said.
The difference on the field will be the offense, which is transitioning from a wing-t to a triple option. Hutchinson said it’s been a learning process for the team and he hopes that most of the intricacies will be worked out by the time conference play rolls around.
“It’s not the same old, same old. Terminology and everything is changing,” he said.
Lewis was one of the last coaches hired within the conference and will build off a team that went 3-5 this last year in conference play, finishing ahead of Red Springs and West Columbus.
“I do believe we’ll be competitive. I’m not sure how many games we’ll win or lose but we think we’ll be competitive on all that we do,” he said.
Lewis plans to run the ball and will base his offense on the personnel, though he expects to do a slight variation on the wing-t.
Jason Jones is taking over at West Columbus, which went 0-8 in conference play last year. He’s tried to bring a new approach to the offense.
“We’re going to try our best to line up in the shotgun and try several different approaches to get the ball down the field,” he said.
The team will again struggle with depth, drawing around 25 devoted players to summer practices.
“It’s an uphill battle but we’re excited,” he said.