Published 12:00 am Monday, August 6, 2007

By Mike London
Salisbury Post
CHINA GROVE ó Carson coach Mark Woody understands his players aren’t given any credit for athleticsm and realizes the public perception is all Cougars fit into the “small, but slow” category.
Football fans tend to put stereotypical labels on a program after a winless debut season, but Woody chuckles as players such as Dustin Craft stroll past his office.
“Our kids definitely aren’t slow,” he said. “We’ve worked hard in that department. Dustin could play anywhere for anybody.”
Craft, the senior middle linebacker, is an athlete by any measuring stick. He’s maybe 6 feet tall, and he remembers dunking a basketball for the first time as an eighth-grader.
Just recently, he started dunking again. It’s taken time to come all the way back from a devastating injury.
Craft began his high school career at South Rowan and was promoted to the varsity basketball team as a freshman to do things like defend North Davidson’s 6-foot-6 Jamal Durham.
He was playing varsity football as a sophomore in 2005 when he blew out his knee in South’s late-season game with West Forsyth.
“I was playing safety, and they ran a sweep,” Craft remembers. “I planted to make the tackle, and one of our corners went for the tackle and rolled up my knee.”
Craft tore the ACL and MCL in his right knee. He wouldn’t run again for six months and missed his sophomore basketball season. When his athletic career resumed, he was a junior and wearing a thick brace that slid around every time he broke a sweat.
He also was wearing the blue and orange of the Carson Cougars. Woody was trying to get a new program started from scratch.
“I was driving down from Durham then,” Woody said. “And sometimes that summer, Dustin was the only kid there to meet me. Rain or shine, he was always there.”
Woody toyed with the idea of making Craft Carson’s first quarterback, but he decided the quickest route to being competitive was to put his best athletes on defense.
So he threw two young kids into the fire at quarterback and installed Craft as his defensive anchor.
The good news was Craft made 145 tackles last year. The bad news was Craft had to make 145 tackles. No one should be required to make 13 hits every Friday.
But Craft was a lot stronger, a lot more mature and a lot quicker then most of the baby-faced kids around him. He stood out like a battleship among tugboats, blocking PATs and recovering fumbles. He made All-NPC.
“I know I won’t be making as many tackles this year,” he said. “Our guys are faster, stronger. The coaches are excited. We know we have a better chance this year.”
Carson was in a couple of games last season. Had the Cougars converted a field goal, they’d have beaten Lake Norman. They scared talented Northwest Cabarrus for three quarters.
“The best part of last year was getting to know new coaches and new players,” said Craft, who checks in at a solid 190 pounds. “The hardest part was the losing.”
Craft finally tasted victory a few times last winter in basketball. He’s not a shooter, but he brought passion to the Cougars. He jumped center and rebounded, startling opponents with his spring.
The knee is feeling better, and now he’s noticeably quicker on the football field. He could have a tremendous senior season and projects as one of the county’s top linebackers.
He probably has a future as a college long snapper.
Craft’s an old-school guy with an old-school work ethic. He even prefers the old-school players. He said he’d take Jack Lambert, the middle linebacker who terrorized Pittsburgh Steelers opponents in the 1970s, over Brian Urlacher any day of the week.
Craft is a bit like Lambert, except he still has front teeth.
“He’s extremely intelligent, he’s athletic, and he’s going to be a good catch for whatever college gets him,” Woody said. “I just hope every high school coach out there gets the chance to coach someone like Dustin Craft.”
Contact Mike London at 704-797-4259 or