Prep Football: West Rowan faces South Pointe, North plays University Christian
By Ronnie Gallagher
ROCH HILL, S.C. — The first thing you think when you see the monstrous structure is, “This is Winthrop University, right? This has to be a college.”
Nope, it’s South Pointe High School towering over the landscape.
The second thing you think is, “West Rowan could fit in this school’s lobby.”
“It’s impressive,” admitted first-year head coach Strait Herron, adding he used to dove hunt on this land when there was nothing here.
Seven years ago, the school was built. Football started the next fall and Herron has been here since, the first five as an assistant.
Despite still being in relative infancy, South Pointe is already a South Carolina heavyweight in the sport. And Herron knows it’s not the size of the school that wins football games. It’s the size of the talent pool.
South Pointe makes the trip to the western side of Rowan County today for a 4 p.m. clash with West Rowan, whose talent pool has become legendary with three straight 3A state championships and 48 wins in its last 49 games. The 3A Stallions, whose student body numbers around 1,400, have been in two of the last three S.C. state title games.
The game will follow an 11 a.m. tussle between North Rowan and University Christian of Jacksonville, Fla.
“We’re going to eat breakfast and then drive to an away game to be the home team,” joked North coach Tasker Fleming.
Before the season, South Pointe’s Herron wasn’t even sure he had a Week 3 game.
“We called everybody and put it on the Internet, Herron said.
He was at a golf tournament when his athletic director, Mike Drummond, showed him a text from a promotor right as Herron was headed for the tee box.
“The text said, ‘I’ve got a Week 3 game for you,’ ” recalled Herron. “Y’all need to play West Rowan.’ I knew that area because of (WBTV’s Football Friday Night) and knew there was great tradition there.”
With a smile, he said, “Knowing about the actual streak (nation’s-best 46 straight wins at the time), I didn’t.”
When he found out, he looked at his schedule: Northwestern, West Rowan, Rock Hill, then Spartanburg.
“There’s pressure,” Herron said. “You could start out 0-4. The first-year football coach is going down in a hurry.”
Herron was joking, of course. As the Stallions’ defensive coordinator, he coached Jadeveon Clowney, the nation’s top recruit who is now starting for South Carolina. Stephon Gilmore and Gerald Dixon, other Gamecocks, are Herron products.
“It was an unbelievable experience,” Herron said when asked about coaching Clowney. He told the story of Clowney when he was a sophomore approaching the senior starting defensive end.
“You’re not going to be the starting defensive end,” Clowney announced. “I’m going to be the starting defensive end.”
That was in 2008 when South Pointe went to Clemson and beat Herron’s alma mater Northwestern for the title. In 2009, the Stallions fell one game short of the championship game and in Clowney’s senior season, made it back before losing to Myrtle Beach.
Like West, South Pointe lost a lot of its stars. But like West, it’s still talented and eager to play a stout foe from another state.
“Put the ball down and we’ll play,” Herron said. “I don’t care if its in a parking lot or in the middle of Carolina Panthers’ stadium. We’ll play anybody.”
He knows his hands are full with the Falcons.
“We stressed to the kids it’s going to be a physical game,” Herron said. “Finding out who West Rowan is was exciting to our kids.”
South Pointe has gone from the flexbone to the spread, thanks to new offensive coordinator Justin Hardin.
If that name sounds familiar, it is. Hardin was the quarterback for A.L. Brown when West was in the same league.
“Never lost to them,” reported Hardin, who Herron said the players are really responding to.
The Stallions have scored just 16 points but are 2-0 (with an asterisk). They were leading AFC Rangers in the second quarter when the rains came. The state association said it was OK to call it a win.
“I’ll be honest with you, we’ve struggled a little bit offensively because of the new system,” Herron said.
Bad news for the ticket takers, though. Herron doesn’t think a big Stallion crowd is coming to Mount Ulla.
“South Carolina is playing Georgia and Clowney’s going to be on TV,” Herron said. “We still don’t have that alumni yet.”
University Christian is 1-0-1 and that’s about all anyone knows about the team with the nickname: Christians.
Last season, they played Andrews up in the mountains and went home 60-8 winners, according to Fleming. They have recruits going to South Carolina and Wofford.
“It’s definitely not a routine game for us,” Fleming said.
North had a team meal Friday night and then practiced. Today, an early breakfast is followed by an early game.
NOTES: A $10 admission will cover the cost of both games. No passes will be accepted for either game. West Rowan reserved seating will be honored, but season passes will not grant admission.