RAEFORD — Paul Hoggard paused Sunday at Bayonet Golf Course when asked to select his preseason Southeastern Conference favorite.
Seated alongside his athletic director Kevin Mabe and Hoke County’s Milton Butts, Richmond’s football coach responded with a quirky, succinct answer.
“One thing’s for sure,” he said. “I’m just trying to keep from getting fired.”
With a league-high 30 points to defending champion Scotland’s 29, Hoggard’s Raiders were picked to win the SEC by the league’s six head coaches in The Robesonian’s SEC Preseason Coaches Poll, an annual survey by the Lumberton newspaper. Richmond received four first-place votes while the Scots, coming off the school’s first-ever state championship, had one first-place vote.
Six points were awarded for a first-place vote, five for a second and so on.
The Raiders have been picked to finish in the top two each of the past three seasons. Last year, Richmond lost for the first time in school history to Hoke County and suffered a 41-7 setback at Scotland that cost the Raiders a share of the SEC title and snapped a 17-year winning streak over their rival.
Back-to-back SEC championships in Rockingham during the 2009 and 2010 seasons are an afterthought following last year’s disappointing — by Richmond’s standards — early playoff exit.
“I can’t have another 8-3 (here) or I’ll get tossed,” Hoggard said.
Another coach who admits to feeling a little pressure is former Jack Britt coach Richard Bailey who inherits a Scots team that finished 15-0 under Chip Williams. Only two starters are back from that dominant lineup and while preseason expectations are high, Bailey stopped short of calling his team championship-caliber.
In 2008, Bailey’s Buccaneers met Hoggard’s Raiders in Chapel Hill for the state title, a 38-35 classic won by Richmond. The pair haven’t squared off since.
“I’m the new guy in the conference and I’m still kind of feeling my way around,” he said. “It’s been a little unnerving the first month (or so) trying to follow up a great coach in a football community like Laurinburg, but this is what I signed up for. We’re excited to see where we can take this program.”
Hoke County, Pinecrest, Lumberton and Purnell Swett rounded out the preseason standings. All six SEC teams qualified for the playoffs in 2011, earning the conference statewide respect as one of the toughest.
“I think for one of us (four) to have a shot, we’ll need to stay healthy and win the turnover battle,” Pinecrest’s Chris Metzger said.
Swett has many new faces adjusting to Mark Heil’s spread offense while Lumberton hopes to avoid a late-season collapse similar to last season. The Pirates return a pair of starters along the offensive line, two in the backfield and a handful on defense.
“It’s going to be a tough year for all of us in this conference,” Lumberton assistant Clay Jernigan said. “Richmond and Scotland always have a lot of talent and the rest of us try to match it. It should be an interesting season.”
The Robesonian’s Preseason SEC Coaches Poll
(First-place votes worth six points)
Richmond = 30 (four first-place votes)
Scotland = 29 (one first-place vote)
Hoke = 18 (one first-place vote)
Pinecrest = 17
Lumberton = 17
Swett = 15
— Reach Staff writer Brad Crawford at 910-272-6119 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.