ELIZABETHTOWN — Gone from last season’s 10-3 Eagles playoff team and co-champions of the Four County Conference are the big shoes of Farrell Murchison, Larrell Murchison and eight other seniors. But new faces may bring about an even bigger change for east Bladen this season.
“It’s pretty hard to replace the kind of leadership, production and mental toughness we had last year,” said head coach Robby Priest. “It’s going to take some time.”
Also taking time is the fact that Priest is installing a new offense — switching from the familiar Wing T to a spread offense, a change that Priest said was done to accommodate the personnel available.
“So far, I’m somewhat pleased with the progress we’ve seen,” Priest said. “But we have a long way to go. I’d like to be in mid-season form right now, but it’s going to be a work in progress.”
The Eagles relied primarily on the legs and tenacity of Farrell Murchison toting the ball last season, and he gave them school records of 2,493 yards rushing and 37 touchdowns. This season, Priest will be looking to spread the field and get folks like Ethan Hines (who had 1,224 yards rushing as a sophomore), twin brother Eian Hines and Kyle Tatum into the open field to utilize their speed.
“That’s what we’re hoping, anyway,” he said. “It (the spread offense) may last one play or all season. If it doesn’t work, we’ll fix it real quick.”
Defensively, East Bladen will set up again in the 40 with folks like senior defensive end Chris Cromartie and senior lineman PaChaun Cloud anchoring the attack.
“We’re pretty big along the line,” Priest said. “Something like 6-4 and 265. I’m liking that.
“The defense is looking good under the direction of coach Mark Little,” he added. “We’ll have a number of wrinkles with the defense, too.”
The Eagles’ non-conference schedule has changed a bit with the scheduling of Class 4-A Wilmington Laney.
“That will be a good test for us,” Priest said. “We always look for good teams to play early, and they should show us a lot. Plus, we’ll see some good spread offenses.”
Things won’t get any easier in the conference schedule. Wallace-Rose Hill is the defending state Class 1-AA champion and is ranked No. 1 in the state among Class 1-A schools, and Clinton, the state’s Class 2-A runnerup last season, is tabbed No. 3 in the state this pre-season.
“I don’t pay attention to any of the pre-season ranking stuff,” said Priest, whose Eagles are ranked No. 12 in Class 2-A. “But I do know the conference will be tough again. It’s probably the best conference in the state top to bottom.”
Priest said Wallace-Rose Hill and Clinton — the two teams East Bladen tied with for the conference crown last season at 6-1 — will be the teams to beat … “but the other teams are also improved, so there can be no letdowns.”
— W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.