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London column: Catawba’s Cuthbertson takes on more responsibility

By Mike London
mlondon@salisburypost.com
Speed has always been a given with tailback Jamelle Cuthbertson, but the stocky senior is anxious to add durability, toughness and leadership to his legacy at Catawba.
Coach Chip Hester has often referred to Cuthbertson as the team’s home-run hitter. Basically, “Cutty” has been a guy whose swift legs have produced big plays in short bursts. Then he’s jogged to the sideline to prepare for his next five seconds of brilliance.
But Cuthbertson’s role has evolved. With George Bell sidelined by a medical condition, Cuthbertson has became the offense’s horse for the first time. Catawba wants to run the ball, and Cuthbertson is the guy coaches are counting on to do 80 percent of the running.
Mixed results so far. Cuthbertson’s 12 carries for 23 yards was mostly because there was no place to run, but his meager numbers contributed to Catawba’s stunning opening loss to St. Augustine’s.
Redemption came in last Saturday’s 41-29 victory over Elizabeth City State. Sixteen carries, 151 yards, three TDs and SAC Offensive Player of the Week honors.
Cuthbertson was both a home-run hitter ó breaking a 49-yarder ó and a workhorse who punched out steady gains of 5, 6 and 7.
“I kind of got out of the groove because I haven’t been counted on to carry the load since high school,” Cuthbertson said. “My freshman year, I watched. My sophomore year, I didn’t get carries until Kory Fisher got hurt. Last year, we had Kory and George and a three-back committee. But now I know what’s expected, and that’s going to help with my game preparation.”Talent isn’t a problem.
When he got his first chance to shine late in his sophomore year, Cuthbertson blazed for 161 yards against Presbyterian. Then he chugged and slugged through the mud for 218 yards at Lenoir-Rhyne, the third-best performance in Catawba’s 100-plus years of football.
As a junior, he was the third option behind Fisher, Catawba’s No. 2 career rusher, and Virginia Tech transfer Bell, who broke the school scoring record last fall. Still, he accumulated 149 rushing yards ó 142 in the second half aloneó in a playoff victory against Albany State.
Cuthbertson credits the offensive line’s improved play from Week 1 to Week 2 for his latest huge outing.
“The coaches challenged the line, and it’s not like those guys had lost all their talent just in the last few months,” Cuthbertson said. “I’ve talked to them about how I like to run, tried to simplify things for them as much as possible. I’ve told them I know they can do it, and they did it Saturday.”
Catawba plays at Mars Hill on Sept. 27. Julian Cuthbertson, Jamelle’s brother, played linebacker for the Lions while excelling in the classroom, and Jamelle nearly followed him. Jamelle jokingly tells everyone who will listen that Catawba is fortunate it won’t be playing against him in two weeks.
“I like to kid Coach (Bob) Lancaster that Catawba didn’t recruit me ó that I had to recruit myself,” Cuthbertson said. “I wanted to go to Georgia Southern, but when that didn’t work out, I was sitting there with nowhere to go.”
Cuthbertson played at Harding in Charlotte, a school known far more for a dazzling band than its football team.
“Cutty was all they had,” said Catawba defensive end Marqus Davis, who played on much stronger North Mecklenburg teams. “We’re playing Harding and we hurt their quarterback, so they moved Cutty to quarterback. Every play was Cutty rolls right or Cutty rolls left. I was our fastest defensive end, so I kept switching to the wide side of the field every play to try to stop him. He was really fast. I told my coach, ‘I’m a 4.6, but that guy must be a 4.3.’ ”
Neither player remembers the final score, but they both agree North Meck won big. Davis says it was really big.
“We had a lot of guys that would move on to other schools like Independence,” Cuthbertson said. “But I loved Harding. I loved the social atmosphere and I loved the show the band put on. I tried to put on a show too. I wouldn’t go back and change a thing. Those were good days.”
Cuthbertson was a track star ó his best 100 meters time was 10.7 ó and he also competed on relay teams good enough to make the state meet.
He also remembers blitzing South Mecklenburg for 305 yards and lots of home runs ó scoring bursts of 73, 68 and 55 yards ó but he remained virtually unrecruited.
Fortunately, Catawba offensive coordinator Matt Barrett made a routine visit to Harding to check on promising juniors, and a coach mentioned there was a good senior back who was still unsigned. Barrett was introduced to Cuthbertson, a chance meeting that led to him visiting Catawba and finding a new home.
Cuthbertson’s stoic father and enthusiastic mother have been huge influences, and they are motivators for him.
“I’ve seen my dad get mad just once or twice in my life, and he’s gonna be the same after a game whether I get 500 yards or 30,” Cuthbertson said. “He’s gonna shake my hand and say, ‘How’s it going?’ He coached me growing up. Making sure I block the right person ó that’s for him. The touchdowns are for my mom.”
Cuthbertson blames himself for losing a long-ago middle school game because he was afraid, but he learned a valuable lesson that stuck.
“My dad told me, ‘No one’s making you play, but if you are gonna be out there, you’ve got to be fearless,’ ” Cuthbertson remembers. “Since that day, no matter what, I’ve played with the gas to the floor.”

Contact Mike London at 704-797-4259 or mlondon@salisburypost.com.

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