2009 Football: South Rowan preview
By Mike London
LANDIS ó South Rowan quarterback Blake Houston has progressed each season, but this year the plan is for him to literally take several steps back.
South isn’t abandoning the triple-option offense it worked hard to establish in 2008, but its base formation is different. Instead of lining up under center, Houston, a mobile senior quarterback with 19 TD passes to his credit, will take snaps from the shotgun.
South has a wealth of experienced skill athletes and the idea is to spread the field more. South will usually give Houston three wideouts to throw to rather than employing a fullback or tight end.
South is heaping responsibility on Houston’s shoulders, but head coach Jason Rollins has faith in the three-year starter to make the proper decisions at the helm of what could be an explosive offense.
“Blake’s seen good, he’s seen bad, he’s seen every which way since we pulled the trigger and put him out there as a sophomore,” Rollins said. “He’s accepted a leadership role. It’s our job to put him in situations where he can be most successful.”
Houston is in position to break the school’s career records for passing and total offense with a big year. He comes in with 2,304 yards ó 1,848 passing, 456 rushing.
Kevin Sides, whose career in the 1990s got overlooked because he played at the same time as West Rowan’s Tim Hogue and North Rowan’s Mitch Ellis and Craig Powers, established both South marks with 2,737 passing yards and 3,376 yards of total offense.
Houston’s targets will include three-year starter B.J. Grant, already one of the most prolific receivers in school history. Grant, 6-foot-2, 180, already has 54 catches, 979 receiving yards and 13 TDs in the books.
Dylan Walker (seven catches in 2008) and Trey House, a standout in track, will be the other starting wideouts.
“Dylan’s a good athlete and goes way, way back with Blake,” Rollins said. “Trey’s come a long way.”
Casey Raymond and Clay Wilson provide depth.
South’s power running game will still be the main course it feeds opponents with 200-pound D’Andre Harris and 205-pound Thomas Lowe sharing the load. Both are bulldozers and college prospects with good speed.
Harris was a 1,000-yard workaholic last season and scored 17 TDs. Lowe broke East Rowan’s single-season rushing record (1,779 yards) as a super sophomore but played only three games at East as a junior before being dismissed from the team.
Rollins said Lowe is fitting in fine. Potentially, Lowe and Harris could be a dynamite duo. Josh Suber (18 carries, 80 yards in 2008) and Cody Simpson provide reserve strength.
Houston is fast and a serious threat to break a 75-yarder at any time so there are a lot of guys to worry about. Defensive coordinators won’t sleep much the week their team plays the Raiders.
In third-and-1 scenarios, South will probably drop a receiver and go with a fullback ó probably 240-pound tractor-trailer Cadarreus Mason.
While South is stacked in the backfield, it could have Jim Brown running the ball and it wouldn’t matter if no one blocked. Rollins believes his offensive line will open holes, although it won’t include any household names.
Zack Beasley and Leo Pope are expected to start at the tackles, with Steve Erwin at center and Jeffrey Daniels (275) and David Archie (290) at the guard spots. Andrew Moody will be a important backup at multiple positions.
“People assume South has big offensive linemen every year but some years we haven’t had ’em,” Rollins said. “This year we do have a few big kids Erwin is not big, but there’s nothing he’s afraid of. It’s a very good group.”
The kicking game looks like a positive. Jacob Jester kicked 19 PATS in 2008. Taylor Patterson and Lito Rivera also are available, and Rivera’s strong leg could prove an asset on kickoffs. Preston Penninger, who handled punting chores last season, has been booming long ones in practice.
Defensively, South made strides in 2008, but it still allowed 24 or more points seven times and was 0-7 in those games. Rollins believes his front four and secondary are stout. The linebackers are the least experienced unit, but they’re coming around.
Mason, an all-county and all-conference end, is expected to anchor the defense. He’s a captain, along with Houston and Harris.
Most teams run away from Mason, but Kyle Rolla is now healthy. Rolla was injured in South’s first game last season. He’s expected to handle the end opposite Mason.
Justin Hall and Zach Howell are experienced, determined interior linemen and will probably start.
South has excellent DBs in corner Mark McDaniel, a junior entering his third varsity season, and veteran strong safety Quan Glaspy.
McDaniel has scored two defensive TDs, including a 94-yard interception return against Northwest Cabarrus last season.
Junior Donte Henderson will start at a corner. The free safety will be Brandon Ledbetter or Ryan Smith. Both are juniors.
The linebacking corps will miss the speed of Reid Shaver, but Jacob Baker, Jacob Nance, Madison Hobbs form a hard-nosed group. John Davis is making a comeback and will help out along with Randy Maxwell, Chris Durant and Lynn Gutierrez.
This is a very important year for Rollins. It’s his fourth at South so he’s been there since Houston, Harris, Mason stepped on campus as part of a heralded class of freshmen.
“I feel almost like a father with this bunch,” Rollins said. “I’ve watched ’em grow up, and they’re good kids with hearts in the right place.”
His first season as head coach Rollins was 3-8, a miraculous 3-8 considering losses by 55-0, 51-0, 56-0, 55-0, 54-0 and 63-20 were among the worst in school history.
In 2007, South threw promising sophomores into the fire and again was 3-8, although a more competitive 3-8.
Last year, the record inched up to 5-7, including a playoff appearance. It should have been 6-6. The loss to West Iredell was a weird one.
It will be disappointing to Rollins, the coaches, the players and the fans if this isn’t a stellar season. This is a year South has waited for an pointed to. It has special players. If you could pick any 22 in the county, Mason, Houston, Grant, McDaniel, Harris and Lowe might be on your list.
Still, for South to get over the hump it has to beat programs it has historically struggled with ó Salisbury, A.L. Brown, Statesville.
Expectations also have to be tempered by the reality that NPC and county rival West Rowan is the preseason No. 1 in 3A. South lost 56-7 to West in 2008. That’s a big gap.
“But I see progress, a lot of progress,” Rollins said. “This team’s not discussing how many games we’ll win and it’s not worried about who we’ll play next month. They just focus on getting better each and every day.”
That’s the right approach. Pencil in South for its first winning season since 2003.
Follow the Raiders
Aug. 21 Salisbury
Aug. 28 A.L. Brown
Sept. 4 at NW Cabarrus
Sept. 11 at Robinson
Sept. 18 Central Cabarrus
Sept. 25 at West Rowan*
Oct. 2 North Iredell*
Oct. 9 Open
Oct. 16 at West Iredell*
Oct. 23 Carson*
Oct. 30 Statesville*
Nov. 6 at East Rowan*
Game time: 7:30 p.m.
*3A North Piedmont