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Conley working to remain as ECC leader

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C.J. Johnson practices with Ken Whitehurst at D.H. Conley on Thursday morning.

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By Jake Keator
The Daily Reflector

Saturday, August 4, 2018

An early morning at D.H Conley features the light mist of dew on fresh cut grass, birds chirping and the violent sounds of pads crashing together. 

The work ethic of the Vikings is a key piece as to why they remain one of the most feared teams in the 3-A/4-A Eastern Carolina Conference. Their efforts led them to an 11-2 record a season ago, highlighted by a perfect 6-0 conference mark. But a year in which the Vikings went all-in for a state title behind the arm of senior quarterback Holton Ahlers was cut short after a second round playoff loss to Eastern Guilford, 44-29.

As they enter this season, the Vikings retain the mentality of earning a state championship despite major roster changes. Their staple of hard work is important to show to reach the heights they aim to achieve.

The new leader of an offense known for scoring in bunches is junior quarterback Nick Hamilton. While head coach Nate Conner would not officially announce Hamilton as the designated starter in the offseason, he has since Hamilton has first-string and placed his full trust in Hamilton’s arm and decision making.

“He is still learning every single day, but every day he is coming in to get better,” Conner said. 

The idea of improving every day has become a mantra for Conner just one week into preseason camp.

“What’s great about today is that you can take mistakes from yesterday and work on them. You can improve and get better,” Conner said when addressing his team at the beginning of Thursday’s practice. 

Hamilton won’t be alone on the field. Scattered throughout the team are familiar names for people in Greenville and beyond.

Of those names, the most prevalent and recognizable is wide receiver and cornerback CJ Johnson. The senior made his verbal commitment to East Carolina in the offseason, allowing for his full attention to be placed on making sure he and his teammates end up on top of the ECC standings.

DHC features a large and strong group of linemen on both sides of the ball. Among that group is Reed Chandler, who like Johnson recently secured his college decision when he made his commitment to join the Army football program following graduation.

“I think the key to our team is going to be the offensive and defensive lines,” Conner said. “Those guys are guys who I’d love for our fans to get to know, because if they are playing really well then we are going to be playing really well.”

As one of the top teams in Pitt County, Conley understands what it takes to build and maintain a winning program. The Vikes open their newest season Aug. 17 when they host Elizabeth City Northeastern in a rematch of the 2017 season opener that ended with Northeastern pulling out a 55-49, overtime win.

Contact Jake Keator at 252-329-9594 or jkeator@reflector.com and follow @JakeKeatorDR on twitter.

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