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South’s Erwin a throwback

LANDIS ó It’s not exactly like being named Bruce Wayne or Clark Kent, but wildlife buffs still do a double-take when they’re introduced to South Rowan lineman Steve Erwin.
“My name being what it is, well, it’s made life interesting,” Erwin said.
The late Steve Irwin, whose surname is spelled differently but pronounced the same, was an Australian naturalist/entertainer who gained international fame as TV’s “Crocodile Hunter.”Irwin hand-fed sharks, wrestled reptiles, squeezed deadly snakes, traded quips with Jay Leno and generally had an outrageously good time after he became an icon in the United States in the late 1990s.
Irwin’s influence had a decent portion of the male population wearing khaki shorts and yelling “Crikey!”
Well, at least until his untimely demise in 2006, when a stringray’s barb penetrated his chest.
Fortunately, South’s Erwin ó and yes, some teammates do call him “Crocodile Hunter” ó is alive and well heading into his junior season.
The 5-foot-11, 205-pound Erwin has more than just a cool name. He’s already a good player, and he has a chance to be outstanding.
Everyone knows South elevated a handful of sophomores (plus freshman Mark McDaniel) to the varsity out of necessity last season.
Mostly they were skill guys such as quarterback Blake Houston, backs Deandre Harris and Quan Glaspy and receiver B.J. Grant. But Erwin also got the call ó to be the starting center.
“I looked at that as a real honor,” Erwin said. “I had buddies who got called up to stand on the sidelines and go in there once in a while, but they brought me up to start.
“I gave them all I could.”
His want-to is what gives Erwin a chance to be something special despite ordinary size.
South head coach Jason Rollins doesn’t call Erwin “Crocodile Hunter.” He refers to him as “our Tasmanian Devil.”
If you’re not familiar with the Looney Tunes cartoon character, the Tasmanian Devil constantly whirls around, eating everything in sight and generally exhibiting crazed behavior.
“I do go a little crazy out there on the field,” Erwin said sheepishly. “Guess it’s that adrenaline rush.”
Erwin’s on-field transformation is surprising, sort of like meek scientist Bruce Banner turning into The Incredible Hulk. Erwin is a polite yes-sir, no-sir type until the lights come on, and his tendency to go a little psycho on the field has presented South coaches with an interesting dilemma.
Obviously, offensive-line play calls for cool-headed execution of assignments. Playing defense requires discipline, but there’s also an element of sheer, frenzied getting after it. Erwin’s mindset and penchant for becoming an untamed tornado might make him a better fit for defense.
South still isn’t sure exactly where Erwin will be, but he will start somewhere and he is almost certain to see extensive time on both sides of the ball.
He’ll be at center or guard on offense, depending on how some of the other juniors develop, and he’ll likely see a lot of snaps lining up next to 280-pound roadblock Kelsey Robinson in the middle of South’s defensive front four.
“Erwin did a heck of a job at center last season as a sophomore,” Rollins said. “Defensively, he’s tough there too because he’s strong and quick off the ball. The one thing we’re sure of is wherever we put him he’s gonna play with everything that he has. Whatever he is ó 5-10 or 5-11, 205 or 210 ó it’s muscle.”
Erwin is strong, bench-pressing 290, and Rollins said his weight-room workouts are more like a collegian than a high schooler.
Rollins saw plenty of Erwin over the summer.
Summers are getting shorter and shorter for football players ó there are roughly seven weeks between school years ó but Erwin gave up every bit of his holiday in an effort to get a little stronger, a little quicker and a little better with South’s “Men of Summer” program that averaged about 45 participants daily.”I didn’t miss a day,” Erwin said. “Monday through Thursday, 7:30 to 10. Lifting, working out, getting on the field.”
And it wasn’t tough getting up for a 7:30 workout?
“Not for me,” he said. “Football is the reason I get up in the morning, and the reason I try hard to make good grades is so I can keep on playing football.”
Erwin’s heard mixed reviews on South’s 2007 season, and he’s anxious to help the program put together its first winning campaign since 2003.
“Some people said we got better last season, but some people told me they thought we got a little worse,” he said. “Mostly this summer I’ve been hearing people say good things about us.”
The future is bright. If South doesn’t break out this year, it’s probably going to happen in 2009.
Besides all the proven junior talent at the skill positions, Erwin is now one of 15 serviceable guys on the varsity O-line depth chart. Most are juniors.
“We’re still young, and we’re going to make mistakes,” Rollins said. “But if guys screw up, they’re going to screw up going 100 miles an hour.”
Once he gets that adrenaline rush, no one will be going any harder than the “Crocodile Hunter.”

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