Carl Drye dies
By Mike London
SALISBURY ó China Grove athletic legend Carl Drye passed away recently at 72, and the length of the line at the visitation spoke volumes about how much the big-hearted man meant to a lot of people.
When sports fans speak of the good olí days at China Grove, Drye is usually the second name that enters the conversation, right after coach Lope Linder.
Maybe the biggest compliment anyone couldíve paid Drye was offered by his rival and friend, Leroy Scercy, whose own death preceded Dryeís by a matter of weeks.
Scercy played in a lot of states against a lot of people, but he told me last fall the games he looked forward to the most in his multi-sport career were the ones in which his A.L. Brown teams competed against Dryeís China Grove squads.
Drye was that good, and he always brought out the best in Scercy, especially in the epic 1955 meeting in which both led tremendous football teams.
Drye and Scercy both made the 1955 All-State team chosen by the Greensboro News & Record, and for a China Grove boy to be recognized in Greensboro, he had to be special. Drye was the first from China Grove to earn that honor.
He was also the first from his school to be selected for the Shrine Bowl and the East-West All-Star Game.
Drye was sort of a 1950s version of Charles Barkley or Randy White, a man impossibly agile and light on his feet for his imposing size.
Dryeís old friend and teammate Richard Snider estimated the titanic, two-way tackle was at least 250 pounds by his senior year in high school, and he may well have checked in at 275.
Whatever his exact poundage, he was huge for his era. Legend has it that much of Dryeís size came from taking advantage of the 68-cent plate lunches at P.J. Millerís. Two plates were usually enough for Drye, but not always.
Despite that size, Drye enjoyed proving he could be devastating in small-manís sports such as badminton and Ping-Pong, and he was a terrific bowler.
Drye played some basketball for China Groveís Red Devils, and he was almost as good in baseball ó thatís what he dearly loved ó as football. And he wasnít a catcher or first baseman ó he was an oversized, graceful second baseman, who could turn the double play like he weighed 150.
Dryeís only baseball regret was that he didnít stick with the 1955 Salisbury American Legion team that went on to play in the World Series. Drye made that team in tryouts, but he wasnít a starter, and he left early to get ready for China Groveís football season. Linder had correctly advised him that it was in football that he was going to attract a college scholarship.
Dryeís senior football season included eight wins and two gut-wrenching losses to A.L. Brown and South Piedmont Conference champion Albemarle. People who were there claim that it had to be the best team the Red Devils ever put on the field.
China Grove dominated the line of scrimmage in its game with the Wonders, but lost when Scercy returned a punt 90 yards late in the game. China Grove lost 19-12 at Albemarle in a game that most of southern Rowan traveled to see.
Drye told me last fall, ěWe wanted to beat Albemarle so bad we could taste it. That one hurt.î
Duke won the recruiting battle for Drye. His career wasnít long, but he did get to play for the 16th-ranked Blue Devils against fourth-ranked Oklahoma in Miamiís Orange Bowl in the game that concluded the 1957 season.
He played a lot at guard in 1958 for the Blue Devils and earned a letter. In his career, he played at Notre Dame and LSU in front of crowds roughly 30 times the total population of China Grove.
Needless to say, Drye also tried out for the baseball team while he was in Durham, eager to prove to coach Ace Parker that what he really needed to make some noise in the ACC was a 250-pound second baseman.
Drye got a kick out of his baseball tryout story and never tired of retelling it. Parker, to say the least, was extremely skeptical that Drye could play second base at his size.
ěHit me some balls and find out,î Drye told him.
Parker, getting angrier by the minute, hit him a few hundred. Drye fielded them all cleanly, and Parker had to find a jersey big enough for his new second baseman.
He returned to Rowan County after his Duke days and enjoyed successful careers in the business and insurance fields. His sons, John and Chris, were exceptional players in their own right at South Rowan.
Drye managed the Linn-Corriher softball team for 15 years and was a tremendous softball player locally in the late 1950s and early 1960s when fast-pitch softball was huge in the area.
Usually, he challenged for the league batting title. Always, he played second base.