Livingstone Football: Former Rowan stars are Blue Bears
By Ronnie Gallagher
SALISBURY — In high school, they made a habit of tackling each other.
Now, Ibn Ali and Dario Hamilton of Salisbury, Justin Avery of West Rowan and B.J. Grant of South Rowan are tackling an even bigger obstacle: helping turn Livingstone’s football program around.
They stood together during the school’s recent Media Day, wearing the same colors, forgetting their high school allegiances and wanting to make everyone forget the moribund records the Blue Bears have been producing lately, including last year’s winless campaign.
“We have some chemistry, being that we’re all from the same spot,” said Ali.
The four former Rowan County stars are still at their prep positions. Avery and Ali are defensive backs. Hamilton is a running back and Grant is a receiver. They’re just four of coach Elvin James’ 60-or-so players but they think their winning attitude can rub off.
“We’re going to bring all we can to the table,” Hamilton said. “We don’t like losing. We’re not used to that.”
Ali’s emergence at Livingstone is a story of being where you’re comfortable.
As a senior at Salisbury, Ali and Hornet coach Joe Pinyan were ecstatic when Duke talked scholarship in the spring of 2008.
“Initially, I planned on going to Duke,” Ali said. “The scholarship was pulled.”
By that time, Ali had few options and signed with Western Carolina of the Southern Conference.
“Western’s a good school but that wasn’t my choice,” Ali said. “People really picked for me. When I made my own decision, I came home. I’d rather be somewhere I’m happy vs. a place I was forced to go.”
Ali ran back kicks for the Catamounts and learned even more about how to play in the secondary.
“I got coached up pretty well at Western,” he said. “So I took the stuff I learned there and I’m going to add what I’ve been taught here and try to make it work.”
Ali’s good with Livingstone. He has three years left and he wants the local fans to come watch the local kids in a nice facility.
“I looked at the facilities at Western and thought, ‘Why can’t we have this at home?’ It can be done. I feel we can make something happen in the next three years.”
His former Hornet buddy Hamilton can help Ali’s dream of turning things around on Monroe Street. He was a 1,000-yard rusher for Pinyan before graduating in 2009.
Hamilton is one of the fastest backs Pinyan has coached. Everyone in the CCC knew when Hamilton broke through the line of scrimmage, it was over. No one was going to catch him.
He went to Miles College in Alabama, but it didn’t work out. He’s been out of the game but showed a bright grin when asked if he could still kick it into high gear.
“Yes sir,” he beamed. “It’s only been two years.”
Grant seconded that emotion.
“Dario’s still got the speed, the jukes, he’s got all that,” Grant said.
Grant, who starred as a senior for Jason Rollins’ South Rowan team that went 9-3 two years ago, started out at St. Paul’s but when it discontinued the program, he returned to familiar territory. The former high jump champ will join Anthony Holland to give quarterback Levon Stanley at least two quality receivers.
“”He’s got a pretty good arm,” Grant said of Stanley. “I actually like it better here than I did at St. Paul’s.
And then, there’s Avery, a former all-county player who once had 11 interceptions in a season for Scott Young’s West Rowan juggernaut. As good of a defensive back as Avery is, he may be known more for his speed in track in the 100 and 200 meters. He went to UNC Pembroke before surfacing here.
Former West star Justin Davis is the Livingstone track coach and he urged Avery to get back on the football field. Avery said it’s nice to see players he faced in high school.
“It has been great playing around people you know,” said Avery, a cornerback. “The transition was real easy.”
He also senses a new attitude in the Blue Bear locker room.
“The chemistry has been great, actually,” Avery said. “I’m looking forward to a winning season. We’ll see how it goes.”
“Right now, it’s great,” he said. “Everybody’s coming together as a unit.”
Two former Hornets, a Raider and a Falcon have now joined forces to help that chemistry.
“We’ve got a lot of momentum going,” Ali smiled. “We’re family now.”
NOTES: Former West star Bryan Aycoth has a semester left and he decided to skip football to concentrate on track in the spring. He is one of the top Division II javelin throwers in the country. … Livingstone opens the season Thursday at Chowan. No word on how Hurricane Irene has affected the Murfreesboro area. … The Blue Bears have only three home games this season. … The first home game is Sept,. 24. … David Shaw’s preview on the Blue Bears is upcoming.