The West Bladen Knights began football practice last week with 34 varsity players on hand according to Coach Raymond Marlowe.
“We are off to a decent start,” Coach Marlowe said. “The kids are working to get adjusted to the type offense and defense we are putting in, but overall I think things are going well.”
West Bladen finished with a 2-8 record last year and failed to make the playoffs. Following the completion of the season Coach Andy Clark resigned his position as head coach. Coach Clark had just completed his third year at the school as head football coach.
A few months later Raymond Marlowe was named coach. Coach Marlowe, who coached at Clarkton for several years and spent a few years as football coach at Tar Heel High, coached West Bladen in its first year of existence in 2001. The two new high school buildings were not completed in time for use before school the year began and the student body was housed at two locations.
Coach Marlowe led the Knights to an 8-2 record that year. His team lost to Clinton and South Robeson, two powerhouse football teams at that time. Both losses were in conference play, and only two teams from the league advanced to the playoffs.
At the end of that school year Coach Marlowe retired. He worked as an assistant football coach at Whiteville for a year, and has spent the past three years as an assistant at East Bladen.
The players expected back from last season will help, according to Coach Marlowe. “We have several players back from last year, especially in the offensive back field. We are working to get a good line in front of them. The defense looks to be coming around. We’ll find out more during our scrimmage game next week.”
The offensive players returning this year include quarterback Austin Hillis and runningbacks Matt McCall, Terrence Autry and Kendrick McKoy.
Assisting Coach Marlowe is Wade Pait, and Terry Elkins. Both worked as assistants to Marlowe at Tar Heel and his first year at West Bladen. Pait has stayed at the school on as an assistant football and head baseball coach. This is Elkins first year back after Marlowe left.
Grant Pait is coaching the jayvee team. He will be assisted by Warren Hill, Daniel Peterson and Matt Hill. The jayvee squad has 45 players out.
The Knights, along with seven other high schools, will participate in the Sampson County Jamboree Friday night. The others teams are East Bladen, Lakewood, Clinton, Union, Midway, Hobbton, and North Duplin.
Friday night at 7 p.m. at Lakewood High, the Knights will take on the Lakewood Leopards, and at 8 p.m. West Bladen is scheduled to go up against the Hobbton Wildcats.
The following Friday, Aug. 17, West Bladen is scheduled to open regular season play when the Knights host the Whiteville Wolfpack.
Southeastern 1A/2A Conference play is set to get underway Sept. 28 when the Knights travel to West Columbus. Other members of the conference include East Bladen, Red Springs, South Robeson, Fairmont and St. Pauls.