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By Nick Bowton
Salisbury PostThe griping started a year ago today, and it continued throughout this past football season.
Every time Justin Avery did something positive on the football field, West Rowan coaches snuck in a verbal jab about how Avery was snubbed last season. Avery led the county in interceptions in 2006 but did not make the all-county team.
People at West Rowan weren’t happy about it.
“I was one of those people that wasn’t happy too,” Avery said. “But, hey, I guess people didn’t think I was good enough.
“But now? Now they know.”
Avery made sure everyone knew how good he was in 2007, as he finished with 127 tackles, 10 interceptions and six touchdowns ó four of them on defense or special teams. Snubs? Not this season. Avery was named Rowan County Defensive Player of the Year.
Then, two weeks after Avery learned of his all-county status, he was named to the Associated Press All-State team.
“He feels vindicated,” West coach Scott Young said. “Nothing nicer could happen to a better kid. He was a good player last year; he really was. But he was phenomenal this year. The stats speak for themselves. And just in general, a good kid. One of the fastest players we’ve been blessed to ever have.
“He kicked it up a notch this year. There were some games where he absolutely took over.”
Young runs downs West’s schedule and notes the games Avery dominated ó Statesville, Lake Norman, Mooresville.
But the one that really sticks out? North Iredell.
Avery returned a fumble 59 yards for a touchdown five minutes into the game. West scored an offensive touchdown five minutes after that, and Avery needed just 24 seconds to return another fumble for a score.
“He ended that game very, very early for us,” Young said.
As big of an impact Avery made with his turnovers and touchdowns, he spent just as much time roaming the secondary looking for targets as he did looking for interceptions. At 150 pounds, Avery said he’d rather get a big hit than an interception.
Playing free safety for the Falcons, he was able to get both en route to becoming the first West defensive back to be named county defensive player of the year.
“That was the main part of me getting those interceptions, being able to roam around free while my teammates were covering everybody else,” said Avery, who played both corner and safety as a junior. “Jordan (Lilly), Antwon (Freeman), they were the main reason I got my interceptions.
“It was everybody; it wasn’t just me.”
Still, Avery had to make the plays after his teammates put him in position to do so. And Young said Avery’s natural abilities made him a perfect fit for West’s system.
“With his speed and our system, the free safety’s free to support the run and rob pass coverages a whole lot as long as his No. 2 doesn’t go vertical,” Young said. “With his closing speed and his instinct and nose for the ball, it fits him perfectly.
“It’s a good player with a good system that fits that good player.”
While Avery fit into West’s system as a free safety, he’ll likely be a corner in college ó either that or put quite a few pounds of muscle onto his 5-foot-10 frame to play safety.
Wherever he goes and whatever position he plays, Avery shouldn’t have to worry about motivation. He already learned how to self-motivate this season, and it started back in the offseason.
Seven interceptions wasn’t enough for all-county? He’d get more. Interceptions weren’t enough? He’d add touchdowns.
“You could tell in his offseason workouts, when it came time to run, when it came time for DB skill day, he worked a little harder,” Young said. “You could tell he strived to get something bigger.”

Contact Nick Bowton at 704-797-4256 or nbowton@salisburypost.com.

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