WENDELL — Last year, East Wake got off to an abysmal 0-6 start before defeating Harnett Central, 23-17, en route to a 3-2 finish to the season.
Quarterback Trent Evans missed out on most of the team’s success after he went down with an injury in the week-eight game against Clayton. With a healthy Evans and a three-year starter in halfback Damontay Rhem in the backfield, the outlook is bright for coach John Poulnott in his fourth season.
Key players: Evans and Rhem will play a significant role in the team’s success this year.
While the duo were only able to earn one win on the field together last season, the Warriors averaged just over 23 points per game and gave up 43.5 points per game during the first six games with a young defense.
Much of the success late in the season was due largely to an improved defense that allowed just 19 points per game in the final three contests. That gives Poulnott hope that his team can get off to a better start this year.
“Trent and Damontay have a lot of reps and should benefit this season from that experience,” Poulnott said. “And Trent has shown a lot of progression during this offseason and we’re excited to see him get back on the field. Damontay also understands that he’s a power runner and can do some things on his own.
“If we can get guys like Gavin Leach to disrupt the passing game on the other side, I think our defense might be much stronger this season.”
Strengths and weaknesses: One of the biggest strengths East Wake has on its side this season is health. Evans being healthy is obvious but with the health of star players on both sides, the Warriors may be able to survive one of their biggest weaknesses – depth.
With 18 seniors graduating last season, East Wake has to put new players in upgraded roles. But with several transfers and some players still trying to find a role on the team, some players may have to play on both sides of the ball.
"We’re going to put our best athletes on the field as much as we can,” Poulnott said. “We don’t have the depth that some other teams in the area do, so we’re going to play kids both ways. That might not be the case for the entire season, but we just want athleticism at every key position.”
Strength of schedule: The 2013 slate for East Wake is yet again a tough one, with the only changes being the opener against South Johnston (8-4 in 2012) rather than East Chapel Hill (5-6) and a week four game with Heritage (6-6) instead of Wakefield (11-2) before conference play.
The Warriors catch a break with their first two conference games against defending Greater Neuse River Conference champion Garner and Southeast Raleigh, as they’ll have a bye week before each game. With all of this in mind, Poulnott believes the final game of the season against rival Knightdale could have major implications.
“I just think with the way things are playing out in our conference, East Wake and Knightdale could be playing for a conference championship,” he said. “Especially if Knightdale has the year that they are expected to have and we can sneak up on a couple of teams and get some wins, we can be right there.
“If that happens, that Knightdale game could be very special for us, or for them.”