SALISBURY — It was classic Buddy Poole.
WSAT’s Poole is the voice of the Catawba Indians, and when confronted with 6-foot-4, 290-pound Lewis McCormick as an interview guest at Tuesday’s press conference at Ryan’s, Poole’s opening line of questioning was, “Wow, big fella, what’s your favorite food!”
‘Everything” is the standard answer to that inquiry, at least when you’re as young (19) and large as McCormick.
It’s in the best interest of the Catawba football program that McCormick continues to make regular visits to Ryan’s buffet and goes back for seconds. Catawba fans need the redshirt freshman to devour everything that’s good for him because if he keeps growing, he has a chance to be one of the best offensive linemen the Indians have ever had.
“He’s gained 30 pounds since he came here,” Catawba coach Chip Hester said. “He’s a great athlete, and as long as he keeps working hard on his strength, he’ll take off.”
Hester tossed around the name of Terence Crosby as the best comparison for young McCormick, and that’s high praise. Crosby finished his Catawba career in 2009 with shelves full of plaques, some of which had “All-American” engraved on them.
Crosby weighed 300-plus but was nimble enough to start some games at tight end and had a vertical jump of 28 inches. He was listed at 6-3, but closer inspection by pro scouts found him to be more like 6-1. Had he been taller, he might have played on Sundays.
McCormick already has one edge on Crosby. Crosby played as a true freshman in 2006, but McCormick had the benefit of redshirting in 2011, a year in which he watched and learned and lifted — and ate.
Even at 290, McCormick still leans more to being lean than being burly. He’s got the sort of rangy, long-limbed frame that offensive line coaches dream about.
Catawba had watched film of McCormick playing for Greensboro’s Dudley High, and once they saw him in one-day camp, they knew he was a guy they needed.
“I liked Catawba because it was close,” McCormick said. “My mom would’ve gone crazy if I’d gone a long way off.”
McCormick’s strength is pass-blocking. As the left tackle, he carries the burden of protecting freshman QB B.J. Sherrill’s blind side. He’s young, but he’s demonstrated so much talent that Catawba shouldn’t have to worry about left tackle again until 2016.
“He moves his feet really well , and his exceptional reach makes him a quality pass-protector,” Hester said. “Plus, he’s already showing signs of being a great leader for us.”
Dudley beat A.L. Brown and its great quarterback Jamill Lott in the 2008 3AA state championship game when McCormick was a sophomore, and he benefited from playing for a strong prep program.
“I had a really good offensive line coach in high school,” McCormick said. “Basically, the same techniques for pass protection that I learned then, I’m still using now. And the work ethic I learned at Dudley I still use now.”
While Catawba’s offense has been sporadic this season, a 99-yard drive in Saturday’s 21-14 loss to North Greenville showed what the Indians are capable of.
That drive, which occurred after a perfect punt by North Greenville was downed at the Catawba 1, tied the game 14-14 in the third quarter.
“You could look at it like, ‘Oh, we’ve got 99 yards to go,’ and get discouraged,” McCormick said. “But we took it one play at a time and went down the field.”
Sherrill completed a 27-yard pass to Jarrid McKinney to start the drive, and he hit McKinney again on third-and-10 at the North Greenville 43 to keep the drive flowing. On that drive, Catawba also mixed in four effective runs by freshman Xavier Bond. Bond broke a 24-yard gain and scored the touchdown from the 5.
“That’s what we need to do to win,” McCormick said. “Mix the run and the pass and get a lot of possession time. That lets our defense stay off the field a while and they can get some rest.”
• Catawba will face Brevard’s option offense in the final home game this Saturday at 1:30 p.m. Junior defensive end Jacob Hanes will be one of the keys to stopping the Tornados (1-8).
“In a season where we’ve been searching for consistency, Jacob has been a real bright spot,” Hester said.
Hanes, a Shrine Bowl linebacker in his prep days at 4A powerhouse Matthews Butler, isn’t used to losing, but Catawba (3-6) has dropped five in a row.
“We’ve had a lot of seven-point losses, but that just means we have to work that much harder,” said Hanes, who had three tackles for loss against North Greenville. “We’ve got to find ways to prevent that seven or get that seven.”
It’s no secret third down has not been Catawba’s best friend. It was more of the same on Saturday. Catawba was 2-for-12 converting third downs, while North Greenville was 8-for-17.
“We know we have to do a better job of third-down performance, and that’s what Coach Lan (Bob Lancaster) is stressing,” Hanes said. ” I like our gameplan, and I’ve got confidence we’ll get it done on third downs on Saturday.”
• Linebacker Cory Johnson (14) and corner Scottie Floyd (12) were the leading tacklers on Saturday. Catawba will be without linebacker Tra Ingram (elbow) again, while linebacker Jason Taylor (ankle) is doubtful. Leading receiver Nate Charest (concussion) also is doubtful.