PIKEVILLE – As Charles B. Aycock prepares to enter year three under head coach Tom Zietlow the Golden Falcons are hoping to build off a 2022 season that was full of positives despite a disappointing finish.
Aycock went 9-2 a year ago, finished first in the 3-A Quad County Conference before losing the regular season finale to county rival Southern Wayne. The Golden Falcons’ season came to an abrupt end with a 53-28 home loss to Triton in the first round of the NCHSAA 3-A state playoffs.
“I’ve got a great coaching staff that I work with that love to do what they do,” Zietlow said. “I think the kids bought in last year after starting out our first year (2021) rough, but finishing strong. That got us motivated to play. Last season didn’t end the way we wanted it to, but I also think that helps motivate us to try to take the next step this year.”
Gone from the 2022 squad are three key seniors in quarterback Ethan Brock, tailback Daniel Frederick and receiver D.J. Prince. The trio combined for more than 2,880 yards last season. Brock threw 14 touchdown passes, seven of them to Prince, while Frederick found the end zone 16 times.
Senior Ray Horlacher, who served as Brock’s backup last season, takes over at quarterback. Zietlow anticipates using multiple running backs to share the workload, while no one back has yet to display the ability to break a long run at any moment, the way Frederick could.
Kam Prince returns at receiver after catching a team-high 32 passes for 485 yards and four touchdowns last season.
“Ray’s had a good summer,” Zietlow said. “He took his job as being the next guy last year to really progress last year so he was ready for this year to take over. He’s had two years to prepare for this. In terms of the running back, instead of having one guy, we’re going to have three or four guys kind of compete for some carries. The biggest thing we’re waiting to see is if we’re going to have one of those backs be a home run threat like Daniel was. I think our receivers as a whole group, are improved from last year. I think we have more this year that are ready to go in and play.”
Junior linebackers Jasaan Williams and Antwain Grantham return after leading the Golden Falcons in tackles a year ago. Williams and Grantham combined for 157 tackles, and Williams also had three interceptions, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. While their contributions certainly show up in the box score, Williams and Grantham’s greatest impact may be felt in their leadership on the field.
“They’ve shown it since they were freshman on the JV,” Zietlow said of Williams and Grantham. “They’ve been leaders since they set foot on campus and they’ve just grown more and more. They run the defense, even in practice most of the time. It truly is an extension of the defensive coordinator with those two out on the field. They know where all the guys need to be and they can run the show on the field. I definitely think that’s a rare thing that we’ve been blessed with guys that can run the entire defense as juniors already. They definitely are the center of our defense. Having that quarterback of our defense out there is huge.”
Aycock’s non-conference schedule includes a pair of home games with county rivals Rosewood and Eastern Wayne to open the season. The Golden Falcons travel to North Lenoir, and then have a bye in week four, before beginning 3-A Quad County conference play on Sept. 15 at Wilson Hunt.
“We always open up with Rosewood and it’s always a competitive game,” Zietlow said. “They’re always well coached in all aspects of the game. It’s a rivalry game and there’s a lot of emotion, so that gets you excited to go out there and play the first game of the season. We follow that up with Eastern Wayne, and that’s another rivalry game to get up for. North Lenoir, I guess is a bit of an unknown, they’ve had a lot of coaching turnover the last couple of years. I think all three games give us some different things to look at. They’re definitely good ways to prepare for the conference season.”