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Gallagher column: Prep football from dawn to dusk

It was practically dark outside when that heavy camera was slung over my shoulder. I was heading out for the first official day of football practice in Rowan County. This would be an all-day endeavor.
It didn’t take long to realize why I became a sportswriter instead of a photographer: A pad and pen are much lighter than that long lens I was lugging around.
On Saturday, I carried all three, plus a tape recorder, a camera bag, a phone, Certs … you name it. The goal was to visit all six practices.
7 a.m.
First stop: Carson.
The Cougars, in their fourth year of existence, are the area’s early birds. Practice should start at 7:30.
A few first-time prospects come strolling in. But most have already been in a three-day mini-camp leading up to Saturday so there weren’t many wide eyes.
Just sleepy ones.
“We’ve been going at 7:30 all summer,” head coach Mark Woody noted. “It works for us. The kids like it. We get ’em in, we get ’em out.”
You always know who the confident stars are. They saunter. Some of the unsure Cougars walk gingerly onto the practice field.
Assistant Andre Neely makes a good point. This is the first group of Cougars who have been nowhere else but Carson. No kids coming in from East or South. This is the first year of true-blue Cougars.
8:05 a.m.
North Rowan is known as Quartrerback Central and the first thing I notice is QB coach Bobby Myers talking to the future and the past.
“Who’s that?” I asked.
“That’s Michael Connor,” he said. “He’s in the eighth grade. His team was undefeated last year.”
Connor’s presence at the high school’s first practice is a good sign for second-year coach Tasker Fleming. He has talent coming and Connor obviously wants to be a part of the resurgence.
Connor is too young to help Myers this year. Myers is also seen talking to another quarterback who is too old to help.
Tell me it ain’t so. Is that really Super Mario Sturdivant?
It is. Sturdivant, who still holds some Rowan County passing records, should have inspired the Cavaliers just by being there. He’s one of the greatest Cavs ever.
“I’m in the process of moving back from Ohio,” Super Mario reported. “I told them I’d come work out this morning and see what’s going on.”
Assistant Rodney Goodine, beginning his sixth season at North, has a big smile on his face. I wonder if its because football is starting or because his 10-year-old showed some power Friday night, hitting a homer in a Spencer baseball tournament. Probably both.
He could’ve been smiling at Vince Shropshire, who is leading the group in some exercises. Shropshire has some arms so muscular it’s the first thing you notice.
“He’s worked hard this summer,” Goodine said.
8:50 a.m.
Fleming jumps in beside Shropshire, bends down low and leads the team in a rousing chant of “Cavalier Pride!”
I leave thinking things will be different at North this season.
9:20 a.m.
One thing about Salisbury’s practices that never change: Joe Pinyan demands discipline. The Hornets go through the drills in crisp fashion.
On one side of the field, I notice a guy who’s really, really big.
It’s Scotty Robinson, who is preparing for his senior season at East Carolina.
I remember writing a story on Robinson soon after his high school graduation. He stood 6-foot-4, 198.
Now? He’s 6-5, 275. Wow.
On the other side of the field is county athletic director Walter Hart, who doesn’t stand 6-5, 275. But it’s nice that he’s showing some support for his coaches.
9:45 a.m.
It’s 15 minutes before West Rowan hits the field but there are people busy above the stadium surface. The concession stand has to be cleaned and prepared for the upcoming season and there is some sweat being produced.
“Gotta get ‘r done,” says Tim Hamilton, pointing to new bathrooms on the other side of the field and several other upgrades.
10 a.m.
West’s players have already gotten ‘r done. They are coming off a 3A state title.
What a confident group of Falcons. Coaches poke fun at players and seem to really be enjoying themselves. Scott Young gets on players, but he seems as relaxed and proud as I’ve ever seen him.
I think Hart is following me. He’s on the sidelines talking to the assistants.
11 a.m.
Back at Salisbury, Hornet players are suddenly pointing toward the parking lot.
“That’s Carson,” one said.
Sure enough, Shaun Warren and a group of Cougars just thought they’d stop by and watch.
“We play them this year,” said Warren, perhaps the only other player in the county who can stay with Salisbury speedster Romar Morris.
3:30 p.m.
It’s 90 minutes before practice but the locker room at East Rowan is full.
“We’re excited,” said head coach Brian Hinson.
Hinson is in a playful mood, probably because he just got back from a six-day beach trip.
“I had to take my little daughter and wife down so I could stay married,” he laughed.
Asked who he expected to come out for the Mustangs, he replied, “Every kid in the school.”
Thirty minutes later, he’s out with the quarterbacks, chiding Jamie Blalock about a recent 7-on-7 passing session.
Seems Blalock, who is also a good baseball player, threw a knuckleball that dropped down and hit Hinson right in the … ouch!
But Hinson is laughing about it. Grimacing, but laughing.
One kid looks familiar and I realize West Rowan isn’t the only school with a Rowan Legion star (Jon Crucitti) headed to the state tournament next week throwing a football on Saturday.
Preston Troutman is tossing with Blalock.
4:45 p.m.
As I leave East, someone calls out. There are more Carson people watching another practice.
The Cougars are everywhere.
5:15 p.m.
As I enter South Rowan practice, I expect head coach Jason Rollins to be wearing a cowboy hat.
He has just returned from a trip to Austin, Texas, where he attended a Woodmen of the World convention.
Woodmen of the World?
“I have my insurance license if somebody runs me out of town,” Rollins joked. “That’s my backup plan.”
Rollins is asked if he visited the Longhorns’ football stadium.
“You know I did,” he said, adding he had his photo taken with Bevo, the mascot bull.
He then leads his red bulls through a precise down-to-the-second practice.
I think to myself, “This is as confident as I’ve ever seen the Raiders.”
8 p.m.
Practice at South is over. It took over 12 hours but my mission is complete. I have gone full circle, starting in the southern end of the county and ending it there.
Sadly, no more football until Monday.
Gladly, no more lugging that heavy camera around.

Contact Ronnie Gallagher at 704-797-4287 or rgallagher@salisburypost.com.

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