3A Championship: 3 rings in 4 years for special seniors
By Marny Hendrick
CHAPEL HILL — In competitive sports, most playing and coaching careers come and go without experiencing a significant championship of any kind.
For three West Rowan senior football players, however, each of their four high school seasons ended in a state championship game. That is truly rarified air for most athletes but actually the norm for receiver Jarvis Morgan, tight end Louis Kraft and linebacker Troy Culbertson.
The first three years produced state titles for the Falcons, of course, and although they lost Saturday’s 3A title game to Havelock 38-6, the significance of four title games in four years was not lost on the veteran trio.
“It has been a wonderful experience overall for me,” stated Culbertson, a 6-foot-2, 225-pound linebacker who notched six solo tackles in Saturday’s title game. “I really appreciate being here because not too many people ever get this chance.”
All three seniors were part of the junior varsity at West Rowan four seasons ago when they got a late season call-up to the varsity team. Little did they know the Falcons were embarking on a remarkable string of three straight State 3A titles and a nation-leading 46-game winning streak.
For top receiver Jarvis Morgan, football was a brand new sport four years ago. It was his first year to play and his experience was obviously limited…. “All I knew was to run and catch.”
Fast forward four seasons to Saturday’s post game locker room and a disconsolate Morgan rips tape off his ankles as he tries to come to grips with a championship game loss to a dominant Havelock Rams team. It is not often in the last four years that West was on the short end of a dominant performance.
“It is just frustrating, “ Morgan said. “I hate to lose and it is not something we are used to doing around here. I just wish I could have done more to help my team.”
A 6-3, 180-pound wideout, Morgan had a great varsity career and achieved a personal accolade in Saturday’s game. He grabbed six catches for 73 yards which put him at 1,015 receiving yards for the season. Morgan is only the third West receiver to surpass 1,000 yards for a season.
Despite the tough loss, Morgan was able to reflect back on his varsity experiences in a positive way.
“I just thank God for blessing me and allowing me to enjoy the success I have,” Morgan said. “I am proud of all we have accomplished as a team in four years and I appreciate all my coaches and teammates.”
Kraft summed it up best as he also reflected on a remarkable championship game ride.
“It was great and amazing to win those first three,” Kraft said, “but I really wanted to go out on top… we all did.”
Kraft is the senior leader of the twin tight end formation, the Falcons employ often throughout the course of the game. He and junior Jack Gallagher primarily are expected to block and act like offensive tackles most of the time. But Kraft did have six receptions this year including a key 12-yarder last week in their regional final win over Burns. Notably, two of his catches also went for touchdowns.
Four years ago, Kraft got the call to the varsity as the understudy to Patrick Hampton and enjoyed success as his career progressed from one championship to the next. “Overall, it was a great experience for me,” Kraft said. “It is something I will remember for the rest of my life.”
Coach Scott Young has a special place in his heart for all of his seniors but noted that the unique trio of players who moved up as freshman four years ago had each made significant contributions to the overall success.
“They are great young men and leaders for this program,” Young said. “It has been a great ride for all of them and I just wish I had a dollar for every enjoyable hour I spent with them.”
A perfect ending to the fairy-tale ride for these three seniors would have been four rings in four years. But the harsh reality of losing to a strong Havelock team would have to serve as the epilogue.
“You really have to seize your opportunities and make the best of them,” Culbertson reflected. “We just couldn’t do it today.”