Gallagher column: South Point welcomes Rollins home

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 14, 2008

Roaming the county getting ready for tonight. …When South Point assistant coach Phil Tate saw the playoff pairings and realized South Rowan was coming to Belmont, a lump formed in his throat.
His boy was coming home.
South Rowan coach Jason Rollins is bringing his Raiders to the school he grew up just a few hundred yards from, a school where his brother, Chip, is the boosters club president, where his father, Larry, used to be the boosters club president, where his niece, Megan, is a cheerleader …
And where you can’t score a touchdown without seeing the name “Rollins” on the 25-second clocks in the end zones. Larry’s insurance company paid for those clocks, so a sign bearing his name and business is perched on top of each.
Rollins laughed at the suggestion he’s part of the “First Family of Belmont,” but it really is hard to ignore the name at South Point:
– Oldest brother Chip, 38, is a 1989 graduate who was an offensive and defensive lineman for the Red Raiders. While working for his father’s insurance company, he was a volunteer coach for 15 years.
He was an assistant for South Point when it won the state title in 2003 against Northeast Guilford. He still has a photo of himself, his son Noah and Jason celebrating in the aftermath.
Chip has just one request for Jason if his team ever makes it that far.
“I want a sideline pass,” he said.
– Jason was a wide receiver before graduating in 1992. South Point began winning consistently during Rollins’ time, and it hasn’t stopped being one of best programs in the area.
– Derick graduated in 1996 and was more known for baseball.
From the time they were small children, the Rollins boys were always hanging out at Lineberger Stadium.
“Belmont was a small town when I grew up,” Rollins said. “Living near the school was a unique experience. I loved it. As far as sports, we lived and breathed it.”
Tonight, he gets to live and breathe it again. This time, he’ll be on the other sideline as his 15th-seeded Raiders (5-6) face John Devine’s second-seeded Red Raiders (10-1) in 3A action.
Chip admits he’ll be watching his brother more than the game.
“He has some of my tendencies where he’ll throw a headset or a hat or something,” Chip chuckled.
Tate will be keeping an eye on Rollins as well.
“It’s sort of a bittersweet thing, to tell you the truth,” Tate said. “Jason’s one of our guys; he’s like a son to us. You want to win, but there’s something there that’s hard to explain.”
Tate had an influence on the Rollins boys soon after their mother, Shelia, died of cancer in 1992. He was aware that Jason was having a difficult time dealing with her death, so he made him a part of the Red Raiders coaching staff along with his brothers.
“It was a hard, hard situation,” Tate said. “I felt like Jason needed some stroking. I thought he’d be better off being out here with us. We got him thinking about something else.”
Said Rollins, “I was under a lot of pressure, and they took me in. I thank them for that.”
Chip agreed, adding, “There were four men in the house. It gave us something to do.”
It was at this time that Tate saw something special in Rollins.
“He was a student of the game even at that age,” Tate said. “I felt like he would probably be a coach one day. He was a good player and a real good individual. I just knew Jason would change lives.”
He’s changed the mindset at South Rowan, where the Raiders are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2004.
The similarities of South Rowan and South Point are eerie, according to Tate.
“Looking at the film was like looking at us,” he said.
There’s the red uniforms. There’s that name: Raiders.
“They even run a lot of our stuff,” Tate said. “Jason runs the old power-I that we ran when he was here.”
Chip ventured over to watch film last week and took some good-natured ribbing.
“The coaches told me I was scheming against them,” he said with a laugh. “I’ll love Jason forever, but for one night, he’s the enemy for 48 minutes.”
Chip warns South fans to expect anywhere from 6,000 to 10,000 fans doing the tomahawk chop.
“It’s intimidating,” he said.
Rollins says he gave explicit instructions to South quarterback Blake Houston.
“I told him to look for my name in the end zone,” Rollins said. “And head straight for it.”
Whoever wins in Belmont tonight will likely be a step closer to meeting West Rowan, the No. 1 seed in 3A. The Falcons should roll past Franklin (5-6).
Salisbury, the No. 11 seed in 2AA, drives to the land of the Black Bears to face No. 6 Pisgah (8-3) in Canton.
A.L. Brown, the No. 4 seed in 3AA, plays host to Lake Norman (7-4). No. 12 Davie County goes to powerful Butler (10-1) in 4AA. Butler’s only loss came to No. 1 seed and undefeated Independence.
On the air tonight:
– The dynamic duo of Howard Platt and Wilson “Don’t call me Wild” Cherry will be at West Rowan to call the game on WSTP 1490.
– Commissioner Carl Ford and The Coach, Bob Parker, will call South’s game at South Point on WRNA 1140 AM.
Go to a playoff game tonight, folks. And be nice.
Contact Ronnie Gallagher at 704-797-4287 or