Prep Football: West Rowan's Mashburn ready for Shrine Bowl

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 15, 2011

By Mike London
MOUNT ULLA — It was a Monday, a day like any other day at West Rowan, except all of a sudden center Hunter Mashburn was playing in the Shrine Bowl.
“Fourth period, about 1:30, and Coach (Scott) Young calls me in and tells me,” Mashburn said. “It took me two hours to get down to Spartanburg, but at 5:45 I meeting my teammates. It all happened so fast it didn’t even sink in right away.”
North Carolina’s all-star squad found itself in dire need of another center when Sun Valley’s Jarred Barr got hurt in practice.
Offensive line coach Joe Nixon explained Mashburn’s unexpected break had its roots in the West vs. Burns 3A regional final played on Nov. 25 in Lawndale.
Burns’ 285-pound junior nose guard Tank Ramseur had been chewing up and spitting out opposing centers all season, but the 230-pound Mashburn more than held his own.
“They said he was the best nose guard in the state,” Mashburn said. “But he only had two tackles against us.”
West’s offensive line and running game were dominant in a 33-7 victory. West did things no other team had been able to do against Burns, and one of the people who noticed West’s center was special was Chris Norman, the former Shelby head coach who was in the pressbox serving as the color man on a radio broadcast.
The coach of North Carolina’s Shrine Bowl team is Mark Barnes of Crest High, Shelby’s next-door-neighbor. When Barnes lost a center, instant-replacement recommendations were sought. One call went to Norman.
“The center you want,” Norman said without hesitation, “is that guy from West Rowan.”
The coaching network operates swiftly, everybody knows everybody, and every coach in the state has a stake in the Shrine Bowl.
It was Mooresville’s Hal Capps who made the first contact with West Rowan.
He had two questions. Was West’s center a senior and would he be interested?
He is and he was. A few hours later, Mashburn was headed south.
An all-conference and all-county guy who has played in multiple state championship games, Mashburn won’t be in awe in this best-of-the-best clash, and he’s confident he’ll match up OK with a South Carolina defensive line that is relying on quickness rather than size.
“This is great news for Mash and for West Rowan,” Nixon said. “Sure, Mash is a little undersized, but he’ll do well because he has speed and intelligence. He’s a very smart football player. That’s going to very important because he’s going to be a little bit short on practice days.”
Mashburn said he’s already established himself as the team’s best at one thing.
“Bowling,” he said with a laugh. “We went bowling Tuesday and I had the highest score. By far.”
The vast majority of the players in the Shrine Bowl will be moving on to college careers — in football, not bowling — and many will play at the Division I level.
While Shrine Bowl week is sort of a shopping mall for coaches, Mashburn isn’t feeling any pressure. He has no plans to play college football. He aspires to attend Liberty as a regular student and he hopes for a career in physical therapy.
But don’t think for a moment that football isn’t imbedded deep in his soul.
West’s lopsided loss to Havelock in the 3A championship game left a bruise on his fine prep career, but now, unexpectedly, he’s got one more football game to play on Saturday at 1 p.m.
It’s a second chance.
“This game means a lot to me,” he said. “We have a very big and talented team, and this is a great chance for me to go out a winner.”
Mashburn’s presence in the game also means quite a bit to West’s program.
Before Young became head coach in 1998, West had produced two Shrine Bowlers in four decades.
Mashburn is the eighth during Young’s tenure. He follows a path trod by James Francis, Tristan Dorty, David Melton, Chris Smith, K.P. Parks, Domonique Noble and Charles Holloway.
“That’s exactly what Coach Nixon told me before I left,” Mashburn said. “He told me I’m upholding a great tradition.”