Havelock football coach Jim Bob Bryant wants his players to know one thing as they get ready to begin the 2013 season: They’re not state champions.
"It’s a new year. It’s a new team," he said. "Everybody starts the season 0-0. You don’t start 16-0. Everybody in the state has the same record going into the opening game."
Havelock is coming off back-to-back state 3A championships, and in the eyes of many state high school football prognosticators, is the favorite to win a third straight title this season.
"They can’t believe the hype and what people are talking about, three-peat and all that kind of stuff," said Bryant, whose Rams were 15-1 last season. "We have to play one game at a time. We can’t think about the playoffs or state championships until you think about the first game.
"We can’t get to the state title without winning that first game, and then the second game, and then the third game. We can’t look ahead. We’ve got to focus on one game at a time, because each week there’s going to be challenges. We just have to keep overcoming the challenges each week."
Havelock’s challenges this year come in the form of inexperience on the offensive and defensive lines and a new quarterback who must replace the school’s record-holder for single-season all-purpose yardage in Pharoh Cooper. Cooper, the most valuable player of last year’s state championship game, is now playing at South Carolina.
Bryant said he is looking to junior Travis Sabdo (6-foot-1, 180 pounds), who threw a touchdown pass in last year’s state title game, as the starter but admits that sophomore Kyran Bowman (6-1, 160) and junior Jordan Begley (6-2, 180) are in the mix.
"Right now, we’ve got a three-way battle for the quarterback position," Bryant said. "Travis right now is penciled in at No. 1, but penciled in means it could be erased."
Bryant said returning running back and receiver Taylor Woods (5-9, 185), who had 898 yards rushing and receiving a year ago with 11 touchdowns, would also see time at quarterback in Havelock’s wildcat formation.
Whoever lines up at quarterback will be doing so behind an inexperienced front that lost three seniors, two of which are playing in college. Senior Michael Howard (5-8, 175) returns at center, while senior Martez Morris (5-10, 240) is set at guard. Bryant will look to sophomores David Lynch (6-0, 195) and Mark George (6-2, 205) and senior Nick Clifford (6-0, 220) to fill out the offensive line.
"They’re athletic and they’re picking up the blocking schemes," Bryant said. "We’re not weak on the offensive line. We’re just inexperienced in three key positions."
Michael Bowman (6-0, 195), listed as one of the top juniors in the state, returns at receiver after hauling in 51 passes for 829 yards and six touchdowns a year ago. Woods, Matt Boykin (5-5, 145) and Jordan Cuthbertson (5-8, 150) all have experience playing receiver in Havelock’s offense, which has five returning starters.
The focus of the Havelock offense — and most likely of opposing defenses — is expected to be running back Derrell Scott (5-11, 185), who is being recruited by nearly every top college football program in the country. Last season as a junior, Scott, the school’s career-rushing leader, ran for 1,709 yards and 34 touchdowns, averaging 8.5 yards per carry.
"We’re going to move him around," Bryant said of Scott. "We’ll line him up in the backfield. We’ll line him up as an outside receiver. We’ll line him up as a slot receiver.
"No doubt he is a heck of a player. Because everybody is going to be keying on him, that’s going to open up three or four other players who are really good skill players on our offense."
Bryant said the key to the offense would be the elimination of turnovers and a consistent offensive line that comes together to play as a unit.
The Rams averaged 47.9 points per game last season, and Bryant’s plan is to make the offense even quicker. During a recent scrimmage, Havelock ran 21 plays in five minutes, or one every 14 seconds.
"We’re going to hurry, hurry," he said. "We’re going to call the offense a lot faster. Most of the time we’re going to snap the ball every 10 seconds. We’re going to really speed it up. We’ve been working on our tempo a lot."
Havelock returns six starters to a defense that gave up just 10.9 points per game last season, including leading tackler Andrew Ramirez (5-9, 175), who moves from linebacker to safety after recording 99 tackles, three sacks, an interception and two fumble recoveries last season.
The Rams must replace Harry Caldwell and East Carolina-bound Malcom Ashley, who combined for 144 tackles and 14 1/2 sacks from the defensive line last season. Maurice Harris (6-1, 215) returns up front, and Billy Watkins (5-10, 255) and Jaquan Godette (6-2, 235) are coming up from a junior varsity team that went 10-0 last season to bolster the defensive front.
Havelock puts its defensive strength in its linebacking corps, which features junior returners Andrew Vanover (5-10, 190), who was second on the team in tackles a year ago with 90, and Anthony Fisher (5-9, 175), along with Keion Joyner (6-3, 185) and Joey Godette (5-10, 180). Junior returner Akenno Godette (5-9, 190) and sophomore Trey Owens (5-9, 160) will also be in the mix.
"The defense is looking good right now," Bryant said. "We’ve got to get to the football, and everybody has to do their jobs. They can’t play outside the system. They have to play within the system. Everybody has to take care of their personal responsibilities. That will allow everyone to make plays."
Havelock returns its two place-kickers from a year ago in Dylan Baker (5-9, 150) and Noah Kemble (6-0, 185), and Bryant said new punter Dejohn McCullough has been impressive in practice. Woods and Scott will be featured in the kick return game.
The Rams have 48 players on the roster, and Bryant is working to eliminate two-way starters to keep his players fresh.
"We’re really working on building some depth on both offense and defense," Bryant said.
State-mandated realignment juggled Havelock’s schedule for 2013, with non-conference games against Washington, New Bern, Jones Senior, Kinston and Northside. The new Coastal 3A Conference is without D.H. Conley, South Central and Washington, and picks up Swansboro and Richlands.
"I think Jacksonville is going to be really, really good, and I think West Craven will be much improved," said Bryant, whose teams have won four straight league titles. "We don’t know a whole lot about Swansboro and Richlands."
Bryant said the goals for 2013 are no different than his previous five seasons at Havelock — to win the conference title and to win the state championship. He said those would never change.
But he recognizes the challenges Havelock has being a two-time defending state champion, challenges his team will face each week with each opponent.
"We’re going to be everybody’s state championship game," he said. "If a team doesn’t get up for anybody else, they’re going to get up for us. It’s fine. That’s the way we like it. It means we’ve been doing something right, and if we continue to do things right, that would be great."
2012 Finish: Coastal 3A Conference champions, State 3A champions
Head Coach: Jim Bob Bryant
Coaching record: 105-32, including 63-11 in five seasons at Havelock High
Returning offensive starters: 5
Returning defensive starters: 6
Key players: RB Derrell Scott (1,709 yards, 34 TDs in 2012); WR Michael Bowman (51 catches, 829 yards, six TDs in 2012); RB/WR Taylor Woods (11 TDs in 2012); S Andrew Ramirez (99 tackles, three sacks in 2012); LB Andrew Vanover (90 tackles, 2 1/2 sacks in 2012); DL Maurice Harris (38 tackles, 4 1/2 sacks in 2012);
Aug. 23 at Washington 7 p.m.
Aug. 30 at New Bern, 7:30 p.m.
Sep. 6 vs. Jones Senior, 7 p.m.
Sep. 13 at Kinston, 7:30 p.m.
Sep. 20 vs. Northside, 7 p.m.
Sep. 27 vs. RICHLANDS, 7 p.m.
Oct. 4 vs. JACKSONVILLE, 7 p.m.
Oct. 11 vs. SWANSBORO, 7 p.m.
Oct. 18 at WHITE OAK, 7 p.m.
Oct. 25 at W. CARTERET, 7 p.m.
Nov. 1 Open
Nov. 8 at W. CRAVEN, 7 p.m.
League games in ALL CAPS