2011 Football: West Rowan preview

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 13, 2011

By Mike London
MOUNT ULLA — Every program loses eventually, and West Rowan realizes that someday, maybe this season, maybe even this month, it will become reacquainted with the bitter taste of defeat.
The Falcons understand the nation’s longest winning streak can’t last forever, but as they march arm-and-arm onto football fields, home or away, they always maintain a collective, steely resolve that shouts to the opposition, “Tonight is not that night!”
West Rowan has won 46 in a row and three straight 3A state championships. The Falcons have won 37 straight Rowan County matchups, a streak that dates to 2001.
The seven-time defending North Piedmont Conference champions also have won 26 straight league games, dating back to a home loss to West Iredell in 2007. They’ve won 26 straight NPC road games, going back to 2003.
As far as the current seven-team NPC, the last time one of those schools celebrated a win against West Rowan on its home field, it was, of all people, North Iredell in 2002.
Will someone get to celebrate this year?
Maybe. West Rowan is far from a perfect team, although still an awfully good one.
Coach Scott Young says the defensive line can be as good as it’s ever been, a scary statement for foes to digest with their morning coffee.
Young agrees his starting linebackers are beasts, that his offensive line is stout, that his tailback tandem will form a wicked 1-2 punch. And yet, questions remain unanswered, even in mid-August.
“I don’t know if we’re as good as we’ve been,” Young said candidly, “but I do know our offensive and defensive fronts are good. The questions are quarterback — we’ve got to get that settled— and DB. Some of our young DBs have to grow up and step up.”
Let’s start with those DBs.
West graduated a magnificent quartet, all of whom will play at the next level. Three of them, crazy as it sounds, were county player of the year candidates. All-American Eric Cowan won that award.
“There’s a whole list of guys,” Young said. “Speed they’ve got. Experience they don’t.”
Trey Cuthbertson does have experience. He’s played quite a bit. He’ll be counted on to lead some fresh faces.
Candidates include Devin Parks (the brother of K.P.), C.J. Ellis, Zeke Blackwood, Daisean Reddick, Jockaile Burnside, Tyler Kennedy, Tacoma McNeely, Harvey Landy, Demetrius Davidson, Cody Eggers, Trevor Loudin and Najee Tucker.
There are lots of track burners and basketball leapers in that group, but can they play the sort of physical football West DBs are known for?
Time will tell.
Young said Eggers and Blackwood have the tools to take over at the “drop end” position. That’s the hybrid linebacker/safety that’s critical in West’s “50” defense.
Mention the word “linebacker,” and a smile floats across Young’s face.
No questions there. Junior studs Logan Stoodley (215 pounds) and Terrence Polk (225) are rock-solid returners.
Stoodley is special. Fifty-one — that was Dick Butkus’ number — is appropriate for him. He has good speed, he’s smart, and he’ll hit. He was named West’s outstanding defensive player in last December’s state title game.
“Logan’s earned his teammates’ respect,” Young said. “He’s a junior, but his teammates look at him like he’s a senior. He’ll be a leader.”
There’s not much LB depth. Jacob Tomlin is the only backup listed on the roster, so if something happens to Stoodley or Polk, the Falcons will call up jayvee reinforcements.
The defensive line promises to be absolutely fearsome.
Greg Dixon (270), Maurice Warren (240), Troy Culbertson (225), Trey Shepherd (260), Kiero Cuthbertson (245) and Jarius Lewis (255) are proven.
Derrick Fortson, Teoz Mauney, Ray Bath and Matthew Choi are promising.
“Some big bodies that are very athletic and they can line up at any number of different places,” Young said. “We’re deep there. We’ll roll (rotate) a lot of people.”
Dixon dominated at times as a junior, but he also was injured some. He has a chance to be the most special guy in that elite group.
“Dixon runs very well for 270, he’s agile — I think he’s a Shrine Bowl type,” Young said. “Some of our guys have had flashes of brilliance in the preseason, but Dixon’s played at a consistently high level.”
West’s kicking game was an occasional sore spot in 2010 — PATs were an adventure and three punts got blocked in a single game — but Young believes Blackwood will be a fine punter and Hobie Proctor will be an asset on placements.
Arturo Vergara backs up both spots. Bertin Suarez may be returning to the mix.
West’s defense posted a school-record six shutouts in 2010. As tough as the schedule is, that stat probably can’t be duplicated, but if they aren’t torched by big pass plays, the Falcons will be stingy again.
The offensive line returns three horses — senior center Hunter Mashburn (230), senior left tackle Mike Norman (280) and junior left guard Brandon Hansen (245).
Junior Rashad Sherrill (B.J.’s brother) is taking charge at right tackle. Right guard isn’t set in stone, but strong candidates are Chris Hassard (285), Cody Haire (245), Dionte Reddick (235) and soph Trey Brawley (200).
Andre Archie (235) returns from a knee injury. Jonathan Ruiz (245) is also in the fight for playing time.
That’s a solid group.
The starting tight end will be Louis Kraft (6-4, 205), with Jack Gallagher and Aaron Ernsberger behind him.
West frequently employed two-tight end sets last season, and graduated TE Patrick Hampton was the leading receiver. Kraft, who backed up Hampton, caught two TD passes. Gallagher, who has good hands, could team with Kraft when West goes with double-tights this season.
“We need Kraft to do what Hampton did; Gallagher to do what Kraft did,” Young said.
Tall, athletic Jarvis Morgan (14 catches, four TDs) headlines a corps of wideouts that has been diminished by injuries. Quinton Phifer is likely to miss the whole season with a knee injury suffered in a scrimmage in Alabama. Veteran Brandon Ijames also was hurt, but less severely. He’s expected back in a few weeks.
Young said a new name to know is junior Tyler Stamp, who’s had a huge preseason. Depth at wideout will be provided by C.J. Charles, Darius Gabriel, Ahmed Blackwell and Jamey Spurlin. Nick Collins is working at receiver, but may still wind up at linebacker.
West still uses the traditional I-formation fullback quite a bit. Mack Flanagan has established himself there. Andrew Garrison is a possibility. Jordan Davenport adds depth.
West is in solid shape at tailback. Senior Dinkin Miller, championship game MVP, rolled for 1,805 yards and 19 TDs in his first season as feature back. Desmond Jackson galloped for 699 varsity yards and six scores as a soph.
“That’s a highly productive duo,” Young said. “They’ve both looked great. They’re 175-pound kids, so they’re not as powerful as some tailbacks we’ve had, but they’ll take it up in there.”
Marquise Drummer is No. 3 on the tailback chart.
As far as quarterback, it’s been a scrap between Connor Edwards, who backed up record-setting B.J. Sherrill last season, and newcomer Zay Laster, a transfer from Mallard Creek.
“Both have done good things and not-so-good things,” Young said. “Both have strengths, but also weaknesses. Quarterback is still a work in progress for us.”
Laster is a strong, athletic guy. Edwards has been in the system longer, and it was Edwards who directed West for much of the 2010 state title game after Sherrill was hurt.
“I could play both, but I’m a believer in having a starting quarterback,” Young said. I want one guy to take charge and start getting the majority of the reps, but I still don’t which one that’s going to be.”
Obviously, there are more questions in Mount Ulla than usual, but the Falcons always seem to find the right answers.