Prep Football: Carson notebook
This is the fifth of eight features on area football teams.
Tomorrow: South Rowan
By Ronnie Gallagher
The Carson notebook …
CHINA GROVE ó Mark Woody has finally realized that after four years, his Carson football program has arrived.
And it took a stroll through Wal-Mart for that to sink in.
Strangers have approached him with nice words about the Cougars.
“I’ve had a lot of that, actually,” Woody said. “People I don’t even know are saying they’re pulling for us. I’m hearing good things. It’s encouraging.”
Woody’s wife has had similar experiences at the YMCA.
“We feel good about where we are,” Woody said. “But you can’t allow yourself to become complacent. We haven’t done anything yet.”
Woody is grateful to have a coaching staff that has stuck together as the school enters its fourth year.
“It’s a great staff,” he said. “There are some good football minds here. We all get along and it makes it so much easier. You find any coach worth his salt, he’s got a good staff. We’ll see some of that carrying over to the football field this year.”
EARLY YEARS: One of those loyal assistants is Travis Billings.
He remembers issuing equipment out of the back of a pickup truck. He remembers driving halfway to Durham to meet up with Woody. He remembers taking stuff home to wash.
“It has been a tough row to hoe,” Billings said. “It has been a lot of hard work.”
But it has paid off. The Cougars go through crisp practices now.
“This is the first time since we opened the doors that we feel like we’re coaching players, not X’s and O’s,” Billings said. “They understand more of what it’s about.”
NEW COACH: Jason Stanley, a former South Rowan player, is joining the Cougars’ staff. He played at Western Carolina and was living in Hayesville before returning to Rowan County.
Stanley is coaching defensive ends.
RUN, COUGARS: Carson will have a talented backfield, led by 1,000-yard rusher Shaun Warren.
But don’t forget about the other Cougars.
“I’ve got three I wouldn’t trade for anybody,” Woody said.
Jacorian Brown has put on 30 pounds of muscle this year, while Clifford Long has been a big surprise.
“Cliff has improved ten-fold,” Woody said. “Their relationship is so tight, they’re special. We have three legitimate running backs.”
THANKS, MOM: Zack Grkman is the cerebral player for the Cougars, carrying a 4.4 GPA.
He’s smarter than all the coaches put together,” Woody laughed.
When asked who he got his smarts from, Mom or Dad, Woody said, “I’ll stay out of that one.”
So the question was posed to father, Jim, an assistant.
“You’ve known me for a long time,” the elder Grkman said. “You know it’s not me. It’s his Mom.”
QBS: Nick Houston and Zach Gragg, both juniors, are working at quarterback.
Houston has turned some heads, although he has missed time due to summer basketball.
“Nick is a tremendous player,” Woody said. “With those three running backs, I’d love to be our quarterback right now.”
Gragg was the backup quarterback last season.
“The quarterback situation is good,” Woody said. “I’ve got five.”
SURPRISES: One of the bright spots has been quarterback Dante Gilbert, who will be the jayvee quarterback.
“I like him a lot,” Woody said. “He’s been the surprise so far. He’ll play for the varsity a little bit.”
Derrick Sewell, a basketball player, is also out.
“He could help us,” Woody said.
THE FUTURE: Spotted at a recent practice was Southeast Middle School football coach Spencer McCoy, who still plays semi-pro football in Concord.
“He’s a tremendous man,” Woody said. “He spends a lot of time with our coaches and we try to give back as much as we can.”
McCoy brought a busload of prospects over to Carson to work out during the spring and Woody welcomed them with open arms. After all, many of those kids are his future.
Woody said he supports young players, something he did as an assistant at Mooresville a few years ago.
“I learned that from Mike Carter,” Woody said. “You don’t think it’s a big deal, but it’s a huge deal to them just being on campus.”
FANFEST: For the second straight year, Carson didn’t have a Photo Day. It had a Photo Night. It turns something coaches dread into something good ó a Fanfest.
On Thursday, parents and fans were allowed to visit with players and coaches.
“Instead of being rushed and get practice going, we bring the parents over with their cameras and try to embrace it more,” Woody said.
SCHEDULE: Amazingly, those Cougar fans won’t get to see their guys back in the stadium until Sept. 11, the fourth week of the season.
Woody was asked about his quirky schedule, which starts with three straight road games.
“Most coaches would pull their hair out,” he said. “But I don’t care. If you’re going to be good, you’ve got to figure out a way to beat them, whether it’s home or away.”
For the record, Carson goes to Hickory Ridge on Aug. 21, to North Rowan on Aug. 28 and to Salisbury on Sept. 4.
“We’ve been through so much as a staff and a team, nothing phases us at this point,” Woody said.