Gallagher column: Last prep hurrah for West’s Avery
By Ronnie Gallagher
GREENSBORO ó Justin Avery has heard a lot of cheers during a sterling West Rowan football career.
Tonight, he has his final prep hurrah.
Avery, who signed with UNC-Pembroke, is expected to start at free safety for the West team in the annual East-West All-Star Game.
The event, which begins at 8 p.m., will be held at Grimsley High School.
As always, Avery low-keyed his appearance. Playing football is fun, he said, so why get uptight?
“Yes, I’m starting,” Avery shrugged. “I’m not nervous.”
“We’re going to try to limit big plays and win the game.”
A simple assessment, but there was nothing simple about Avery’s play during his West career as he helped the Falcons win North Piedmont Conference titles each season.
This past fall, Avery dominated just about everywhere for West. He scored six touchdowns, two on interceptions, two on fumble recoveries and two on pass receptions.
He finished with 10 interceptions, tying the school record of Zeb Link. His total was 17 over the last two seasons.
He was rewarded by being named 2007 Rowan County defensive player of the year.
And now, the biggest reward of all. He is being recognized as one of North Carolina’s best high school football players.
“It has been fun getting to know everybody,” Avery said.
West coach David Diamont of East Surry said that each of his assistants had a position and coaches sent in their nominations to them. Defensive back prospects were directed toward Newton Conover’s Nick Bazzle.
It was hard to overlook Avery, Diamont said.
“The defensive backs, Justin in particular, are able to break on the ball very quickly, and they picked up everything we’ve done,” he said.
Diamont said almost 400 nominations came in and he had to cut it down to 32 players.
“You must understand you have 32 kids and they all came from different systems,” Diamont said. “Six different coaches had six different systems. So that’s like having 38 different languages.”
“It’s been different than high school practice,” he said. “You have to pick it up real fast. They’re all great coaches. Some of their stuff, I’ve never even heard of. But it’s pretty much the same things, just different names for it.”
Avery is rooming with a familiar face: William Marion of Statesville.
“We’ve gotten pretty close, actually,” Avery said.
Marion, also a defensive back, was Iredell County player of the year.
Both West quarterbacks are from the area: A.L. Brown’s Jonathan Efird and Davie’s Garrett Benge.
Efird is the 33rd Wonder to play in the East-West game and the ninth since 2000.
Diamont hinted that both might not get to pass very much in a run-oriented offense.
One of the West assistants is Glenn Padgett. He spent his first year as a head coach at Salisbury.
That was back in 1998 when the Hornets suffered a 14-7 season-opening loss to West Rowan and never recovered, finishing a dismal 1-10.
Padgett, now at North Mecklenburg, said he still has fond memories of his time here.
“When we were there, Salisbury was struggling a little bit,” Padgett said. “The players we had then were great young men. We just didn’t have a lot of them.”
Padgett is coaching linebackers.
“It’s a lot of fun for me,” he said. “I haven’t coached on that side of the ball since I was an assistant at Concord. The last 10, 11 years, I’ve concentrated on offense.”