This is the sixth of eight stories on area football practices.Today: South Rowan
Next: SalisburyBy Mike London
LANDIS ó The meticulously typed roster sheet that lists junior Jacob Baker at 5-foot-9, 175 pounds should be filed in the fiction section of the South Rowan library.
Gazing at him through the Hubble Telescope, Baker might look 5-9, 175. To the naked eye, he appears considerably smaller.
Baker lacks the bulk and beef to play outside linebacker, but he apparently didn’t get the memo.
“Yeah, I get that a lot that I’m too little,” Baker said. “But I’m as big as I can be.”
When you first hear it, “I’m as big as I can be” makes the same amount of sense as Carolina Panthers coach John Fox’s staple, “It is what it is.”
But when you think about it, Baker is communicating honestly. No one is going to mistake him for departed Derek Davis, but every ounce of him is energy, bone and muscle.
South Rowan head coach Jason Rollins is on the Baker Bandwagon. So is defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Barry Lipscomb.
Baker may look like a choir-boy, but he was a regular participant at the voluntary “Men of Summer” workouts. He’s diligently constructed the sort of compact body you see on wrestling mats.”Most every day this summer, I was out here working,” Baker said. “It was fun. It was work, but it was fun.”
Lipscomb, one of South’s fitness gurus, has established something called the “300 Club.” Linebackers now talk about “300” the way running backs discuss 1,000 yards.
“The 300 Club is an unbelievable workout,” Rollins said. “You do that workout, and you’re a man. Baker believes he can do it.”
Baker says “300” with the same reverence with which some of his classmates whisper “Jessica Simpson,” but he’s only halfway there.
“The 300 Club is 300 repetitions at different stations,” Baker explained. “It’s like six or seven circuits with no break.
“I’ve made it to 150, and that was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.”
Now you’re starting to get an idea why Rollins believes Baker can handle linebacker at 175 ó or whatever.
“Jacob’s just a solid kid,” Rollins said. “It makes you feel good to have kids like that in the program. Sometimes you’ve got kids bringing in plays they just learned from Playstation or Madden, but there are still old-fashioned football players out there, and he’s one of those.
“We realize Baker’s size is gonna put him in some awkward situations at linebacker, but that heart of his is big as can be.”
Coming up through the ranks, Baker has been a fullback/linebacker, so he’s never shied away from sticking his nose into a moving pile.
“There’s no better feeling in the world than hitting someone,” Baker said.
Well, at least until he makes the “300 Club.”
And he might. After all, he’s as big as he can be.
“I’m gonna do 300,” Baker said. “Before the end of my senior year, I’m gonna do it.”
LIP READER: Lipscomb, a former standout at A.L. Brown, was most recently on the staff at Central Cabarrus. He actually joined South’s staff back in January.
That gave him quite a few months to work on mindsets as well as bodies.
“Coach Lipscomb coming here made a major impact on the program, as far as discipline,” junior Cadarreus Mason said. “He’s done a lot to make us confident that we can go out and make plays.”
SLEEPER: Can South be the surprise team in the county and the NPC?
The talent level is way up and the experience level is better, but it all depends on how quickly a monster junior class grows up.
South has only 10 seniors compared to 24 juniors on the varsity.
South has endured four straight losing seasons for the first time since 1990-93.
If you’re an optimist, South hasn’t had five losing years in a row since 1969-73.
“I don’t know how many we’ll win,” Mason said. “But I will promise we won’t be 3-8 again.”
MASON JARS: Mason is actually under-listed on South’s data sheet, which lists him at 5-11, 210.
Mason, who projects to shift from linebacker to defensive end this season, may be an inch taller and is at least 15 pounds heavier.
Mason, who has squatted 525 pounds, is a college prospect. He wowed scouts and coaches at a summer combine at Independence where he excelled in drills and was named Most Valuable Linebacker.
“I guess I took my game up to game speed and showed out,” Mason said.
Mason’s father, Joe, is the team chaplain.
BIG BOOTS: Rollins has confidence in junior punter Dylan Walker, but sophomore Preston Penninger’s foot is already legendary.
Penninger is penciled in as a jayvee O-lineman, but he also may be used on the varsity for special teams.
Penninger, who made a name for himself with two varsity walkoff home runs as a freshman baseball player, has kicked balls into orbit in practice.
A search continues among soccer players for someone who can handle PATs. No kickers are listed on the varsity roster.
COACHES: New coaches include Scott Eagle and Drew Rucks, and AD Danny Crosby is returning to the field after a long hiatus.
Rucks, a friend of Lipscomb’s, was an all-state prep star in New Jersey who played linebacker and wideout at Purdue before transferring to Charleston Southern.
“He can still get out there and show them how to run a route right, and he’ll lead the way running suicides,” Rollins said. “Great addition.”
CELEBRATE: When South plays Northwest Cabarrus on Sept. 12 ó that’s the first home game ó it plans to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the 1983 Raiders, who won the Western North Carolina Division II championship.
South won its last seven games that season, including a 33-32 overtime victory over A.L. Brown.
“Tradition is important, and that team is important to us,” Rollins said. “We’d like to honor them that night, whether we can round up the whole team or just one guy.”