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The selection of Beddingfield High junior Jalil Hutcherson as the 2-A Eastern Plains Conference Offensive Player of the Year registered as a surprise to second-year head coach James Ward. At SouthWest Edgecombe, witnessing junior wide receiver Keishon Porter emerge as the league’s Player of the Year in unanimous fashion was anything but shocking to Jonathan Cobb.
But the common theme in both selections? Both Hutcherson and Porter, at 6-foot-4, demanded a defense’s undivided attention.
On defense, Beddingfield senior middle linebacker Willie Bridgers didn’t have the luxury of sitting out when the Bruins’ wing-T offense took the field. But Bridgers was a supply of boundless energy, calling the defensive signals en route to sharing the EPC Defensive Player of the Year honor with Farmville Central defensive tackle and East Carolina University signee Keziah Everett.
In arriving at the All-EPC selections, the league’s six head coaches did not assign spots based on conference finish, instead voting on each position group on a first- and second-team basis, as well as honorable mention.
Hutcherson, who battled the effects of a shoulder injury sustained in week 4 of the season against Fike, hovered around the 1,000-yard mark and accounted for six TDs. But following a three-week break due to Hurricane Florence, Hutcherson was back in the Beddingfield lineup, rumbling for 140 yards in the Bruins’ first-ever shutout of county rival Hunt, 22-0.
“With us going to the wing-T, he didn’t have the numbers,” Beddingfield head coach James Ward said. “He had the output, but he just didn’t have the numbers he had last year. It was kind of shocking for him to get it, but teams had to prepare for him, and they stacked it up according to where they thought (Hutcherson) was going to be at.”
However, the shoulder did force Ward and the Beddingfield coaches to mindful of Hutcherson’s workload, particularly in the fourth quarter as the Bruins finished 9-3, second behind SouthWest Edgecombe in the EPC and reached the second round of the postseason.
With the transition to the wing-T, Hutcherson had to become mindful of not only carrying out the fakes associated with the offense, but running more with authority between the tackles. That was a transition for Hutcherson, who can already gain the edge and beat defenders with speed for explosive plays.
“The wing-T had to teach him to run between the tackles,” Ward said of Hutcherson. “He’s more of an outside edge, perimeter type of back. Running between the tackles is patience. It’s about hitting it, hitting it and somewhere, you’re going to bust one.”
Hutcherson, who is receiving recruiting attention from ECU and the Atlantic Coast Conference trio of Duke, North Carolina and N.C. State, has seen the likes of the Blue Devils’ David Cutcliffe, UNC’s Mack Brown and N.C. State’s Dave Doeren visit the Beddingfield campus.
“I feel good about it,” Hutcherson said of the EPC offensive award. “I feel like I put the team on my back this year.”
Bridgers, who previously garnered Wilson Times Defensive Player of the Year honors, had 85 tackles. Eighteen stops occurred behind the line of scrimmage, while the 5-8, 205-pounder found his way into the backfield for 10 sacks. Bridgers was also responsible for four forced fumbles.
“I was happy and glad,” Bridgers reflected on receiving the EPC defensive accolade. “It surprised me at first, but I was still happy. Our linebacking corps, to me, was the best linebacking corps that Beddingfield has had with me and Tacoby. Nobody, to me, is better than both of us together.
But while Bridgers’ personality made him the ideal fit for calling the defensive signals and getting his teammates in the right spots, his first name, Ward opined, required him to raise his level of play by default.
“I joke with him — you get an old man name, you’re supposed to be a leader!” Ward said. “Nobody gets named Willie anymore. But he was everything for us — on the offensive side too! You’ve got to remember he started both ways all year at offensive guard and center. It’s going to be hard to replace 54.”
Bridgers’ departure, as well as that of outside linebacker Tacoby Coleman, leaves Beddingfield with a difficult void to fill at the linebacker spot.
“When you go and get conference defensive player of the year and turn right around and get Wilson Times Defensive Player of the Year, that was a statement in itself,” Ward said. “He worked his butt off in the offseason. That boy watched a lot of film.”
THE ULTIMATE RESPECT
When SouthWest Edgecombe was attempting to mount a second-half comeback at eventual North Carolina High School Athletic Association 1-A champion Tarboro in the final game of the regular season, Porter lined up at wide receiver and saw not one, but two Vikings in the secondary dedicated to tracking his movements.
It didn’t matter. Porter still produced, hauling in 10 catches for 157 yards and two TDs from senior quarterback Jayden Lewis, showing the propensity to defeat Tarboro defensive backs in jump ball situations.
That translated easily to EPC play, where Porter was a unanimous choice for Player of the Year.
“I think one of my favorite memories from the season was Tarboro putting their best two players out there — one in his face and the other directly over top of him,” Cougars head coach Jonathan Cobb said. “And he still had almost 160 yards in receiving yards. We kind of got in a hard spot there against North Davidson in the third round, and then in the second half, I think he caught three touchdown passes. I think he’s special; I think he’s a Division I football player. I think if he were to choose football over basketball, you could see him at the next level one day.”
Porter had 43 catches for 790 yards, with 16 of those receptions going for touchdowns for the EPC champions, who finished 11-3 and reached the third round of the postseason.
“On jump balls and stuff like that, I use my height and my wingspan to reach up and grab the ball,” Porter said. “Because mostly, all the DB’s that guard me are smaller than me. So, I can take that as an advantage.”
Despite bringing the Cougars a vertical threat they haven’t necessarily had in the recent past, Cobb was especially proud of the fact that Porter ranked third on the team in pancake blocks — allowing SouthWest backs to thrive to the tune of 3,961 yards in the wishbone offense.
“Some wide receivers out here, they’re just worrying about the catches and all that stuff,” Porter said. “But you’ve still got to be out there blocking too. I take that mindset that I’m a good blocker as well.”
While Porter said he remains undecided between football and basketball, Cobb concedes that basketball has become his star wide receiver’s passion.
“For him, he’s a basketball player first,” Cobb said. “I think basketball is more his passion, but I think he enjoys football. Ultimately, that’s going to be his decision. I may be biased because I’m a football coach, but I think he’s mighty talented and special in football, and could go places.”
EPC teams from The Wilson Times readership area were well-represented on the all-conference rolls.
Along the offensive line, SouthWest picked up first-team selections from Jaquez Powell and Davis Wainwright. Beddingfield placed senior Daymon Kardesoglu, a Barton College, signee, as well as Nash Central’s Savion Hines and Tyquan Ward of North Pitt.
The second team offensive line consists of Beddingfield’s Arnold Pender, Farmville Central’s Kendall Holt and Tanner Wittig of SouthWest. North Johnston picked up the tandem of Kevin Bautista and Sydney Durham.
Wide receiver Imandre McFarland of North Johnston was a first-team selection, as was North Pitt’s Naz Station. Second-teamers were Beddingfield wide receiver Devon Roesch and Jaquez Dickens of SouthWest Edgecombe.
At quarterback, SouthWest’s Lewis was a first-team selection, followed by Farmville Central’s Tae Suggs on the second team.
North Johnston’s Camden Aycock was honorable mention.
In the backfield, first-team selections went to Beddingfield’s Raekwon Batts, Nash Central’s Bryan Hawkins and Camron Privette of North Johnston. On the second team were Zack Adams of Beddingfield, David Barrett of Farmville Central and SouthWest Edgecombe’s Darntrell Council.
On defense, SouthWest’s Jalen Smith and Beddingfield’s Lamorris Speight pace the first-team defensive line. Nash Central’s Shyheim Pittman and Rahshae Owens of Farmville Central complete the quarter, while on the second team, North Johnston’s Jacob Markham, SouthWest’s Tanazzi Williams, Nash Central’s Reggie Johnson and Nyheem Pettaway of North Pitt complete the second-team defensive line.
Both Batts and Darryl Malachi of Beddingfield were honorable mention defensive line selections.
Beddingfield’s Coleman was one of four first-team linebackers alongside SouthWest Edgecombe’s Larry Taylor, Nash Central’s Brydon Petteway and Diego Santiago of North Johnston.
Kedar Darden of SouthWest Edgecombe is among the four second-team linebackers, with Dayquan Woods of North Pitt, Farmville Central’s Marcus Grey and Farmville Central’s Sam Barrett completing the group.
North Johnston’s Travis Riba and Brennan Rabil were honorable mention picks at linebacker, alongside Beddingfield’s Adams.
At defensive back, the duo of SouthWest Edgecombe’s Michael Hussey and Travon Newsome lead the way alongside Nash Central’s Kendall Winston on the first team. North Johnston’s Austin Lee was honorable mention. On the second unit was the Farmville Central trio of Walter Cherry, Jesaun Sutton and Duntavious Short.
Kicker Zander Gardner of Farmville Central was selected as the lone special teams player on the first team. The second team was comprised of North Johnston kicker Graham Walston and Adams from Beddingfield.
Coach of the Year honors went to SouthWest Edgecombe’s Cobb.