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Gallagher column: Raiders have fire in their bellies

LANDIS — It was 4 p.m., two hours before practice officially began at South Rowan.
Christian Voyles was sitting alone in a quiet locker room, ready to go. He was quickly joined by David Horne, Spencer Matlock, Scott Magnusson and Andrew Mauldin.
Five players who had that look in their eyes. If they could’ve hit the field right then, they would’ve sprinted out there.
You don’t usually see that from kids coming off a 2-9 season. But as South Rowan head coach Jason Rollins notes, the Raiders of 2011 “have a fire in their bellies we didn’t see last year. The kids have more maturity.”
South had to grow up quickly in the fall of 2010. Rollins had directed nine wins the year before but lost practically all of his starters. A group of sophomores and inexperienced juniors and seniors just couldn’t get over that hump.
Like the players, Rollins is putting it behind him.
“There was a lot of ‘if we could’ve done this, if we could’ve done that,’ ” he said. “You can’t look back. We have to move on.”
He’s doing it with a talented junior class that took its lumps as sophomores. Now, its seasoned and expected to lead, considering there is a very small senior class.
“They all seem to be leaders in their own right,” Rollins said of his juniors. “You see a group come in with a leadership style. You follow that group and you’ll be successful. You can see a mold the young kids can follow.”
One of those juniors, Josh Medlin, realizes that.
“We have to push the freshmen and sophomores on varsity,” said the star defensive end. “There won’t be a lot of seniors to push us so we have to push ourselves.”

South pushed and pushed last year, but came up short. The fight was always there, though.
Rollins points to a 53-16 loss to neighbor and eventual 10-game winner Carson. Don’t forget South led that game, 16-0.
“We had such a good group of kids but so many were playing both ways,” Rollins pointed out. “We were wearing out by the third quarter. You know you’ve got great athletes coming at you, but when you run out of gas, you run out of gas.”
Rollins went home that night full of pride.
“They left everything they had on the field,” he said. “You couldn’t ask for anything else.”

Saturday mornings are painful when you pick up the newspaper in the midst of a 2-9 season.
“You see that score and don’t realize what the kids went through and how many challenges they faced,” Rollins said.
South’s best stretch was when it won two of three in the middle of the season. The Raiders defeated Central Cabarrus 27-21, lost to West Rowan (who didn’t?) and then played its most solid game in a 32-14 win over North Iredell.
But the Raiders lost their last four, including a 14-6 defeat to East Rowan in the finale.
“We had so many unanswered questions last year,” Rollins said. “We knew we’d struggle but this is a new year. We want to fix that.”
South seems to have the right mindset.
“It’s like business,” Rollins said. “When you blow that whistle, it’s time for work. You can see it every day when when you come to practice.”
And most of the time, you can see it two hours before.

Contact Ronnie Gallagher at 704-797-4287 or rgallagher@salisburypost.com.

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