Prep Football: Friday Night Legend Derry Steedley
GRANITE QUARRY — Derry Steedley is remembered for his heroics with the Rowan County American Legion baseball team — his .415 career batting average was a record for two decades — but he also set prep football marks in 1976 as East Rowan’s QB.
“East had a lot of athletes in those days,” Steedley said with a laugh. “We did OK, but we didn’t make the playoffs, so I’m thinking it must’ve been that quarterback that held us back.”
The newspaper clippings and stat sheets say otherwise, even though 1975 and 1976 were definitely seasons of frustration for the Mustangs.
Steedley got started young in sports, benefitting from having an older brother who let him tag along to backyard and sandlot ballgames.
“Yeah, I took some lumps,” Steedley said. “But playing against guys who were 3 or 4 years older makes you play at a higher level.”
By age 13, he was playing against men in the Yadkin Valley Baseball League.
Growing up in the Rockwell-Granite Quarry area, East’s legendary 1969 team that went undefeated was a huge influence on boys such as Steedley.
“We pretended we were Johnny Yarbrough and C.M. Yates whenever were playing ball,” Steedley said. “East was successful. We wanted to be like those guys.”
As a junior in 1975, Steedley directed an offense that had an awesome backfield — Rick Vanhoy at halfback, Randy Fowler at fullback, Kizer “Pookie” Sifford at wingback.
Fowler and Vanhoy were both Shrine Bowlers. Sifford was the fastest guy in the WNCHSAA in the 100-yard dash.
W.A. Cline, architect of the 1969 dream team was still the coach in 1975. He was a firm believer in controlling the ball and minimizing mistakes, so the Mustangs stayed on the ground most of the time.
“We had a halfback-pass play,” Steedley said. “I used to joke around with Vanhoy that he got to throw more than I did.”
Steedley’s highlight was throwing a late TD pass to Sifford to beat a powerful North Davidson squad led by future Clemson star and NFL standout Perry Tuttle.
“North Davidson loaded the box, so we had to throw it,” Steedley explained.
But a 2-0 loss to West Rowan late in the season — yes, 2-0 — wrecked East’s playoff hopes.
When East beat Davie in its finale to finish 6-4, no one knew at the time but it would be Cline’s last game at the East helm for a dozen years. That summer, he accepted a job offer from Concord.
To replace Cline, East hired Sonny Eller. Eller obtained the job through exaggerating his credentials (he’d attended college briefly and had no teaching certificate), but in that 1976 season he was a pretty fair football coach.
Fowler and Vanhoy had graduated, so Eller put the offense in Steedley’s hands. Eller installed the veer. Steedley ran the ball a lot on the option and had the opportunity to throw more frequently.
“He opened things up a lot,” Steedley said. “And I had good receivers like Robert Fink.”
The 1976 season began about as poorly as possible for Steedley, who tore a muscle in his thigh.
He still played opening night and threw two TD passes that gave the Mustangs a 12-0 lead against Salisbury. But the Hornets stormed back to win 15-12.
In Week 2, East lost to South Rowan 22-6, and Steedley suffered a concussion. With his team 0-2 and Steedley ailing, Eller made a move that went a long way toward salvaging the season. He moved center Frank Brady to running back.
“That turned out to be a blessing in disguise,” Steedley said. “Frank turned out to be a really good college running back at Wofford.”
With Steedley still less than 100 percent, East lost to North Davidson 28-6 in Week 3, but Brady rushed for 114 yards. It was a sign of things to come.
Steedley was healthy the following week against North Iredell and enjoyed one of the great games in school history — passing for 274 yards and four touchdowns and rushing for 73 yards. Three of his TD tosses went to Brady. Steedley’s 347 yards of total offense that night still stands as the school record.
East lost to a strong North Rowan team, but the Mustangs shut out Mooresville. Then they beat South Iredell, with Steedley rushing for a career-best 91 yards.
It was during East’s struggle with West Iredell that the P.A. announcer informed the Mustangs that South Rowan had just lost to North Rowan. That inspired the Mustangs. They drove 89 yards to put away West Iredell and surged past South Rowan into first place in the NPC’s Division II.
East’s 0-3 start was ancient history. It stood 4-2 in league play.
The NPC in 1976 was an unusual league of 11 teams, with five in Division I — where North Davidson and North Rowan were the best squads — and six in Division II.
Only eight games counted as conference games even if a team played nine or 10 NPC opponents. And with so many teams, some NPC teams didn’t play each other.
West Rowan was next, and Steedley remembered that 2-0 disaster. He passed for 249 yards and four TDs in a 37-20 victory.
Heading into the season’s final week, the Division II standings looked like this: East 5-2, South 4-2-1, Davie 4-3.
East played Davie in Mocksville with temperatures in the 30s, and the Mustangs played their worst ball all season. Davie led 26-0 at halftime. It was 32-0 before Steedley scored East’s only TD.
Meanwhile, South Rowan beat West Iredell to claim Division II’s only postseason berth.
Steedley finished with 1,353 passing yards and 1,623 yards of total offense. He set a total offense mark for the school — and county — that lasted until 1992.
Stats have changed so drastically in recent years — more games, more weak opponents — that Steedley’s great season now ranks only 46th in the county record book.
He didn’t play college football, opting for baseball instead. He played at Liberty and Pfeiffer.
“Frank Brady and I went to Wofford on a recruiting visit,” Steedley said. “I saw the size of those guys. I wished Frank luck and told him I’d try baseball.”
Steedley married East grad Roxanne Gordy, a member of another athletic family. Their boys, Spencer, a Double-A pitcher in Minnesota’s farm system, and Ross, an all-conference catcher for the Charlotte 49ers, are well-known to area baseball fans.
All that playoff frustration also has a happy ending. Cline returned to East in 1987, and Steedley was his quarterbacks coach in 1991 when QB Chandler Shaw and the Mustangs made the best comeback in school history. Making its first playoff appearance since 1974, East trailed seventh-ranked Statesville 27-7 in Greyhound Hollow in the fourth quarter. The Mustangs rallied to win 35-34 on a two-point conversion in overtime.
“One of the biggest thrills of my life,” Steedley said.