2012 Football: North Rowan preview
By Ryan Bisesi
SPENCER — A walk through North Rowan High School any time during the last few decades reveals the Cavaliers aren’t hurting for athletes.
Numerous track and field state championships and a recent basketball title will support that.
It’s Joe Nixon’s job to hone the 45 players that grace the football roster to get them gridiron-ready. Some North fans would like to go back in time back to the days of the “Airport” offense and coach Roger Secreast. With youth at several key positions, Nixon, in his first year over from West Rowan, wouldn’t mind leaping forward a year.
As it stands, he’s leading a youthful squad hungry to bounce back from a 4-8 season.
“We’re so young,” Nixon said. “We’re counting on a bunch of sophomores and a couple freshmen. We’ve got good seniors, there’s just not a whole lot of them.”
Despite the youth, there’s a palpable buzz amongst the program. Change is apparent on the sideline and on the field. Among those wearing headsets with Nixon will be defensive coordinator Stevie Williams, who coached with Nixon at West and played with him at Catawba. Ben Hampton, who played for Coastal Carolina, comes over from Carson as the offensive coordinator.
“North Rowan’s always been known for speed,” Nixon said. “I feel like we’ve got some guys that can stretch the field on offense. We’ve got to play fast and know what to do.”
Nixon likes his new team’s agility and attitude going forward with a new coaching staff.
“You really don’t know what’s going to happen until that first Friday night because you’ve got a lot of guys playing without varsity experience,” Nixon said.
In one of the more notable on-the-field moves, T.J. Allen, who’s quarterbacked the last three seasons for North, is sliding to defensive back. In comes left-handed sophomore Alexis Archie giving varsity football his first shot. Nixon has high expectations for the 6-foot-3, 215-pound transfer from West, who makes up for lack of experience with upside.
“Playing quarterback, you’ve got to be the leader in the huddle and know the offense inside and out,” Nixon said. “He’s another young guy that’s got to grow up fast for us.”
North plans to use multiple formations on offense to dictate the opposing defense. One of the youngest groups on the field is running back where sophomore Jareke Chambers and freshman Jalen Sanders will get most of the carries. Andre Cowan and Raekwon Wynruit will also work for handoffs.
Junior Michael Connor is learning how to play receiver and may turn out to be the biggest threat at the position. Connor was impressive last year on the hardwood and is attempting to translate that talent to the gridiron.
“I couldn’t be more impressed with the kid right now,” Nixon said. “He’s not scared to go after it when the ball’s in the air.”
Cameron Sifford and Darrell Taylor will be slot receivers while Sakil Harrison (6-2, 175) is a big body up from jayvee. Dominique Crowder is the only senior wideout, joining first-year player Takeo Gill. Fullback Denzel Price returns and will be supplemented by Wynruit and Cowan.
Left tackle Will Robertson is back and is still big. Bigger, even. The senior state-champion wrestler beefed up to 270 pounds and is carrying offers from Southern Conference schools. The 4.3 GPA doesn’t hurt the All-County performer either.
“He’s our bell cow,” said Nixon, who was an All-SAC lineman at Catawba. “He’s the leader of the offensive line.”
Josh Cozart will be the starting center with Brandon Rabon, Braxton Rabon, Devante Everhart and B. J. McCallum all battling for starting spots on the OL. Ethan McGraw and Dylan Brigman will provide depth. Carter Thomason will see the most time at tight end with Brigman seeing some time too.
“They’re fully aware that starting positions can change from day-to-day, from scrimmage-to-scrimmage,” Nixon said. “We believe that competition brings out the best in everybody and we want our guys to compete at all times.”
Junior Xavier Robinson, one of the top running backs for the Cavs last season, anchors a shade 50 defensive scheme at linebacker. Robinson (6-foot, 205 pounds) was All-County and all-YVC as a sophomore.
“He’s done a tremendous job for us in the offseason,” Nixon said. “He’s a big, strong kid who can run well.”
Senior Eugene Coney is moving up from defensive back to join Robinson. Coney gives the Cavs lateral quickness at LB along with Robinson to help replace all-county linebacker Jake Becker, who led the county in fumble recoveries. Jaquan Boyd, Tevin Rankin and Jim Herndon round out the linebacking core. Joining Allen in the secondary will be juniors Michael Robinson and Kasaun Coney.
On the defensive line, Matt Tucker, Shane Parker, T.J. Nunn, Wesley Jefferies, Caleb Anderson, Cecil McCauley, Malik McGee, Monte Carter and Dylan Auten all look to contribute. Demetrius Cruse will be a senior nose guard and D’Quan Miller is a senior tackle. Allen will be a free safety while Michael Robinson and Kasaun Coney, both juniors, will be corners. Senior Daylon Gray had a stellar year in track will contribute at corner and strong safety. Trae Clark will also play strong safety.
The rover position will be between Kenyaun Coney and freshman Xavier Partee. Returning punts will be Allen and Kasaun Coney. Sanders is slated to return kicks while Auten, Clark and Ellis are competing for kicker and punter.
The Cavs participated in scrimmages at South Rowan and Concord to tune up. North is in the Yadkin Valley Conference for one more season before moving back up to 2A in 2013. Traditional power Albemarle is there again and West Montgomery and South Stanly are coming off good seasons.
“We’re trying to see where North Rowan fits in there,” Nixon said. “We’re going to show up every night and compete.”
“We like where we’re going with our program. The kids are responding to the coaching.”