Friday Night Hero: West Rowan’s Mackel Gaither
By Mike London
MOUNT ULLA ó The Richter Scale was developed in 1935 for the purpose of measuring the magnitude of Southern California earthquakes.
Players keep getting bigger, stronger and more aggressive, so the scale is now a helpful unit of measure on the football field.
In West Rowan’s 28-14 playoff victory against Asheville on Friday, there was a moment when immovable object impacted with irresistible force, serious seismic energy was released and the Richter Scale became a valuable tool.
In the blue corner, we had West senior tackle Mackel Gaither (6-foot-1, 265 pounds). In the red corner, we had Asheville junior fullback Jeoffrey Pagan (6-4, 235). Those two provided a collision in the Asheville backfield that registered 4.9 and rattled the windows of the pressbox. This was no mere fender-bender.
“Somebody missed an assignment and didn’t block Mackel, so he takes on that fullback on a lead play,” West coach Scott Young said. “It’s pretty violent. Mackel blows up the fullback, turns the ballcarrier back into our linebackers.”
That led to a lesser collision. Not one that made the Richter Scale, but it was a play for a loss, and every inch was important Friday.
Pagan, an impressive talent, already has received a scholarship offer from North Carolina. If Gaither has offers, he hasn’t made an official announcement, but he can play for someone.
Gaither says Friday’s run-in with Pagan wasn’t that big a deal. He figures he should’ve crushed the ballcarrier too, as long he was visiting the backfield.
“I just engaged the fullback and hit him,” Gaither said with a shrug. “Then the running back goes by me.”
Like most of West’s seniors, Gaither paid his dues. Jayvees. Varsity backup as a sophomore. Part-timer as a junior. He was a significant contributor in 2008 on the 3A title team, but he was still behind all-everything Kenderic Dunlap.
Dunlap left a huge hole when he graduated. Gaither stepped into it, and West’s defensive numbers (9.0 ppg) are a shade better than last season’s magnificent effort.
“Mackel has taken that role that Kenderic had and filled those big shoes for this defense and this football team,” senior defensive end Chris Smith said. “He’s made big tackles all year.”
It’s forgotten sometimes that the New York Giants, Detroit Lions and San Diego Chargers all had defensive lines billed as “The Fearsome Foursome” before the Los Angeles Rams quartet of Rosey Grier, Lamar Lundy, Merlin Olsen and Deacon Jones finally made the nickname famous in the mid-1960s.
The late Lundy is the guy fans forget about. Gaither is West’s Lundy.
Smith, with that great frame and great heart, is committed to Arkansas. Nose guard Eli Goodson has been the county’s most dominant defender. Junior Emmanuel Gbunblee, who plays the end opposite Smith, has the tools and should be the man for the Falcons next season.
Then there’s that other guy upfront ó No. 75. He gets overlooked by some, but not by coaches who watch and study film.
“Mackel’s matured quite a bit over his career and has become a much more dedicated football player,” defensive coordinator David Hunt said. “Our ‘Eagle’ tackle is usually our best defensive lineman. That was Kenderic’s position. Now it’s Mackel’s.”
Gaither has been just about everything the Falcons hoped he would be in his expanded role. He was involved in three tackles for loss in Friday’s rugged win.
“He’s done what a senior needs to do,” Young said. “This is the first time he’s been one of those guys we had to count on, and he’s come through. He stops the run. He’s strong, and he can run. And for a kid that’s 6-1, 265, he’s a great athlete.”
Gaither said he’s gotten sound advice from his siblings as far as the maturing process. He also credits the coaching efforts of assistants Stevie Williams, Ralph Ellis and Ed Bowles for the strides he’s made.
As far as those bone-jarring collisions, well, that’s just Gaither. That part comes naturally.
“This year has been a whole lot of fun,” he said. “It’s always fun being out there doing what you love to do.”
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