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2011 Football: North Rowan preview

By David Shaw
dshaw@salisburypost.com
SPENCER — The marriage between Tasker Fleming and the North Rowan football program is no longer in its honeymoon stage.
For the first time the Cavs’ fourth-year head coach and his talented staff have a team with their personal stamp firmly affixed.
“These are all ours,” Fleming said following a recent practice. “The whole system is ours. These are all players we’ve taught how to do things our way. They’re going to line up and know where to go.”
The hope along Whitehead Avenue is that North can surpass — or at least match — last year’s magical run. The Cavs split 12 decisions but went 6-1 in league play and captured their first YVC championship.
“Last year?” senior Jalen Cook said with eyes the size of dinner plates. “I loved last year. I didn’t want it to end.”
Unfortunately North stumbled across the finish line in 2010. It had its house robbed by visiting West Montgomery — a conference foe it had beaten two weeks earlier — in the first round of the 1AA state playoffs. Rest assured North’s season-ending, seven-turnover 14-0 loss left a nasty stain.
“It showed us that we still have a lot to work on,” said Pierre Givens, another senior. “That we’re still not there. We looked at the film but it was hard to watch. I think we all decided to come back this year and finish what we started.”
It’s a tall order. North must find adequate replacements for standouts Javon Hargrave, Garland Archie, Amani Bates and Sam Starks — none of whom is easily replaced. But Fleming believes he has a capable mix of seasoned veterans, junior varsity graduates and intriguing newcomers — enough to contend for another title.
“We’re not apologizing for anything,” he said. “We’re defending champs until the day we’re not. Albemarle’s the state champ, going for three straight this year, so it won’t be easy. We’re just gonna have to win our way out of this thing.”
They’ll take flight with 16 returning lettermen, including 14 starters. Fleming is giddy about first-year offensive coordinator Tremayne Gilmore and the new-fangled Pistol-I scheme he’s installed. Expect lots of shotgun and wildcat snaps and a first-rate passing game.
“It’s the first time in four years we’ve had the full package,” Fleming said. “In the past if we had someone to throw it, we had no one to catch it.”
North returns a proven commodity in quarterback T.J. Allen, a junior who passed for 1,486 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. Backups include senior Josh Mock, Givens and Oshon West. Mock quarterbacked North’s 7-2 jayvee squad last year. The athletic Givens provides a triple-threat and West — though he hasn’t taken a snap in pre-season practice — returns after spending a year at North Hills Christian School.
The primary targets will be wideouts Givens (22 receptions, 421 yards), Cook and fellow seniors Terrese Barber and Johnny Oglesby — who returns after sitting out the past two seasons. It’s a group Fleming believes can light up a scoreboard.
“That’s just speed on top of speed,” he said. “And they’ve all got good hands.”
NR’s offensive line, impenetrable on the left side, is anchored by junior Will Robertson (6-foot-3, 260 pounds), a third-year starter at left tackle. D’Quan Miller (5-10, 230) returns to start at left guard. The unsettled right side features guards T.J. Nunn (5-11, 260) and Cecil McCauley (5-11, 200), and tackles Alex Broughton (5-9, 210), Bobby Ingram (5-11, 230), Ethan McGraw (6-0, 195) and Wes Honeycutt (5-10, 180).
“It could be a solid line other than the numbers,” Robertson said. “I don’t know if there’s a lot of depth. But still, I like this line and I like this team.”
Those linemen will be aided and abetted by a mix-and-match corps of tight ends. There’s Tyler Watlington, a 6-3 transfer from Statesville; Jake Becker, a 6-2 transfer from Lake Norman; the 6-2 West; and Malik Ford, the 6-7, 220-pound power forward for North’s stellar basketball team.
“Compared to other years, this is actually a very good line,” Fleming said. “We’re able to put real tight ends out there. In the past we’ve had tackles playing tight end.”
Offsetting North’s aerial display with be a menacing group of running backs. Thick-skinned fullbacks Jaquon Boyd and Denzel Price will do the grunt work while Xavier Robinson, Malik Jones, Jordan Kimber and Jareke Chambers will serve as tailbacks. Jones, a speedy junior, was the team’s leading rusher in 2009 but his numbers dipped last year. Kimber hasn’t played since eighth grade while Chambers is a promising freshman.
“We’ve always lacked depth at running back,” Fleming noted, “and haven’t had the toughness to run between the tackles. I think we’ve got a little bit of that now.”
North will employ a 4-3/Multiple 40 defensive scheme, with coordinator Rodney Goodine at the wheel. His backfield will include Cook, Ford and Givens while Mock, Robinson, Becker and Boyd will split time at linebacker.
The situation on the defensive line isn’t as clear. Robertson will be a starting nose guard while Demetrius Cruse (5-10, 235), Miller and sophomore Matt Tucker (5-11, 170) will vie for playing time at the other tackle spot. West, Ford and Watlington will provide sizable bookends at defensive end.
“Those guys can cause some trouble,” Fleming said.
So will North’s special teams tandem. Kick returners Givens, Cook, Jones and Oglesby are all equipped with world-class speed and are never more than one clear block away from the end zone. Barber, an honorable mention all-YVC pick a year ago, will do the punting. A final question remains regarding a kicker: North doesn’t have one, but Fleming is hoping to recruit a strong-footed soccer player.
“I’m optimistic,” Fleming said, completing the required pre-season dance steps. “Every coach should be this time of year. We actually expect more than we did last year. Early success would be great, but this is a team that’s going to evolve.”
Whether or not that parlays into a state playoff berth is the question every coach is asking.

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