RAEFORD — Last season, the Southeastern Conference had three football teams that saw time in the top-10 rankings of the Associated Press’ state poll, making it one of the toughest leagues in North Carolina.
Purnell Swett coach Jon Sherman has a unique way of explaining what five straight games to close out the season against the SEC seems like.
“When you play in this conference, it’s almost like a playoff every game,” Sherman said. “Just having to see the talent you see and the players every night in this conference, by the time you get to the playoffs you’re ready to play on the day.”
At the SEC media day on Sunday at Bayonet Golf Course at Puppy Creek, players and coaches from the league’s six schools convened and voted on the projected finishing order this fall. This comes after three teams made the NCHSAA 4A state playoffs out of the conference last year. Lumberton made an appearance in the postseason against Page and held it’s own with the eventual state runners-up in the first half before Page went on to defeat the Pirates 62-20.
“It’s neat to see the first week and how our conference represents itself in the state playoffs,” Lumberton coach Mike Setzer said. “For us to go against stellar competition like Page and be able to play neck and neck with them for a half lets you know what kind of competition we see every week.”
Lumberton was represented by Setzer, senior Shadix Ralston and sophomore Braylan Grice at the media day, while Purnell Swett was represented by Sherman and seniors Ian Bullard and Dantae King.
Scotland, the regining conference champions, was selected as the preseason favorite to win the league. Richmond was picked second, Pinecrest third, Lumberton fourth, Purnell Swett fifth and Hoke sixth.
Both coaches feel their teams can exceed the predictions that have been put on their teams.
“When we get rankings like that, it makes us excited because we want to exceed everybody’s expectations,” Setzer said. “No matter how hard we work right now, certain people still see us as Lumberton.”
“We’ve got to do what’s expected,” Sherman said. “We’ve got to win the games we’re supposed to win and compete in the games where we are not necessarily at that level they’re saying yet. We can prove our point by winning.”
For the players, playing in a tough league has its benefits.
“Being in one of the toughest conferences allows us to gain more experience playing tougher opponents,” King said.
Bullard added: “When playing against one of the toughest conferences in the state, you definitely gain a whole lot more experience.”
Purnell Swett went 1-4 in conference last season. Lumberton went 2-3.
“It’s pretty tough at times but the better competition, the better it makes you as a player,” Ralston said.
“Last year, I was nervous at times like that,” Grice said about starting as a freshman last year in conference games.
This season is the last season the SEC will consist of six teams with the new conference realignment coming into effect, bringing Jack Britt and Seventy-First to the league. With that looming for next season, both coaches are not thinking about the future of SEC with its additions, but rather, their teams’ first games.
“We’re not even thinking about next year to be honest,” Sherman said. “People have talked about the new conference and all that stuff and I couldn’t care less. My goal is the first game of the year with these guys.”
“We take it one week at a time and I haven’t really talked to the kids too much about who is coming in next year, the most important thing in our universe is Hunt,” Setzer said.
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.