STANHOPE -- Regular season success clashed with playoff glory when the Big East Conference football coaches convened for their annual preseason poll as part of the league's annual Media Day on Tuesday at Southern Nash High School.
When predicting a preseason favorite in the Big East, coaches pondered whether Southern Nash's regular season championship could trump Rocky Mount's journey toward a state playoff runner-up finish.
SN had defeated Rocky Mount as part of a perfect regular season, but the Gryphons returned the favor in the playoffs en route to making the finals for the second consecutive campaign under veteran head coach Jason Battle.
When the picks were released Tuesday, Rocky Mount won the honor as the preseason favorite with 24 total points, including five first-place votes.
Southern Nash, which received one first-place vote, was second at 22, followed by Wilson Fike (15), Northern Nash (14), Wilson Hunt (10) and league newcomer Franklinton (5).
Franklinton is effectively taking the place of Nash Central in the Big East for the next four years under the latest realignment by the North Carolina High School Athletic Association.
"I think we are pretty much picked where we should be,'' said SNHS coach Brian Foster. "Even though we won the conference last year, we did not finish the way Rocky Mount did.
"Until somebody beats (the Gryphons), they should still be at the top of the pack.''
League coaches are once again looking for balance to be prevalent in the conference this fall, with several clubs capable of defeating each other on a given night.
Franklinton, moving up to the Class 3-A level for the first time, will look to make an immediate impact after a long tenure in the Class 2-A Northern Carolina Conference.
The Eastern Plains Conference, with Nash Central as its newest member, also held its Media Day on Tuesday at Parker's Barbecue in Wilson.
Nash Central, fresh off a Class 3-A playoff appearance last season, gained some instant respect in the Class 2-A EPC with a second-place prediction.
SouthWest Edgecombe was tabbed as the team to beat, followed by the Bulldogs of head coach Chris Lee.
The remaining EPC prediction order featured 3) Farmville Central, 4) North Johnston, 5) Wilson Beddingfield and 6) North Pitt.
Pictured (Above): WE'VE GOT THIS. Southern Nash assistant coach Brian Batchelor (right) exchanges a fist pump with a player during a recent football practice session on the SNHS campus. The Firebirds will take part in a Saturday scrimmage in Raleigh. (Photo Submitted by Anthony Barham)