Friday Night Hero: Carson’s Zack Gragg
By Ronnie Gallagher
CHINA GROVE ó During Week 1, Zack Gragg wasn’t worried about being a leader on the field for the Carson Cougars.
He was worried about just getting on the field.
A quarterback, he stood on the sidelines during the opening loss to Hickory Ridge because doctors wouldn’t clear him to play. He had soreness in his left knee, the same one that had been impacted by a torn ACL as a freshman.
“The doctors wanted to be cautious,” QB coach Barry Mitchem said.
In the last four games, Gragg has thrown caution to the wind. Coaches and players alike are following the 5-foot-9 gunslinger.
And why not? The Cougars are 3-1 with him in charge.
“When Zack calls a play, kids understand what he’s saying,” Mitchem said. “They believe in what he’s able to do.”
What Gragg did in a 42-12 thrashing of Robinson was throw three touchdown passes, two to favorite receiver Cody Clanton.
It seems like a long time ago that he injured his knee in a jayvee game against South Rowan.
“I scrambled, and a linebacker cut me at the knee,” Gragg recalled.
Gragg said he walked around with a torn ACL for four months because doctors had misread it. He tried to play baseball, and the knee would just collapse in workouts.
“I’d be limping all the time,” Gragg said. “Living life scared, basically.”
He had surgery and then went through 12 painstaking months of rehab. He tried to play both sports as a sophomore but was far from 100 percent ó mentally and physically.
That’s where Mitchem and the Cougar coaching staff stepped in.
“When he first hurt the knee, it bothered him a lot,” Mitchem said. “We had to be positive toward him.
“Last year, he wasn’t truly all the way healthy yet. We didn’t want to throw him in there and scare him away from football.”
Gragg is now showing positive results with a football in his hand. He threw some pretty balls against Robinson, none better than the 45-yard scoring toss to Clanton that gave Carson a 13-0 lead.
“I don’t know how Cody got that open, but it was an easy ball to throw,” said Gragg, who finished 7 of 13 for 178 yards.
“That was a perfect pass,” Mitchem added. “You could tell he’d practiced it during the week. Cody’s a real good athlete, and Zack gets him the ball.”
Head coach Mark Woody liked the throw but enjoyed the underneath routes better, especially a 17-yarder to tailback Shaun Warren.
“He stuck it right in between two defenders,” Woody said. “And the ones he missed were good misses.”
Did Gragg fret about his braced-up knee at all?
“Once you get that first snap, you’re good to go,” Gragg said.
His confidence is contagious, according to fullback Clifford Long.
“I think he’s a good leader,” Long said. “He has meetings with us. He likes to talk to us about plays and getting everything right. He talks to the receivers one on one.”
Mitchem, a former head coach, loves to see that from his quarterback.
“Zack’s probably going to be a coach one day,” Mitchem said. “He can tell you the coverages. He sees the field pretty good.”
In its fourth year, Carson seems ready to take another step. It starts with Gragg, who now steps confidently on that once-fragile knee.
“He doesn’t have to yell,” Woody said, “because of his presence and demeanor.”
The demeanor of a leader.