Homecoming of sorts
Area athletes update …
Catawba safety L.J. McCray, an All-American, tossed UNC Pembroke’s Ben DeCelle to the grass at Shuford Stadium on Saturday, and DeCelle, wanting a penalty flag, pleaded his case to officials.
DeCelle lost the argument, but it was good practice for his future vocation. The fifth-year senior plans to enter law school shortly after his football career ends.
Besides being a great receiver, safety and special teams player for East Rowan football and a stellar left fielder for the baseball team, DeCelle was a 4.3-GPA student in high school. So it’s no surprise that he’s also excelled academically at UNC Pembroke.
Success on college football fields was longer in coming for him. DeCelle redshirted in 2009. Then he finally started getting on the field on special teams. He caught his first pass for the Braves in 2010 and another handful of passes in 2011. In 2012, he caught his first two touchdown passes.
This season, he’s become an integral part of undefeated UNCP’s game- plans.
“DeCelle is a superstar,” teammate Jonathan Efird joked.
Well, almost. He has been good.
Starting at slot receiver, DeCelle has 40 catches for 361 yards in six games. He made 10 catches against Fayetteville State and 10 more against Charlotte. He caught a touchdown pass against Wingate, and he had eight catches for 82 yards — one of them spectacular — when the Braves visited Catawba on Saturday.
Preparing for Catawba, DeCelle saw more film of Catawba’s No. 4 (McCray) than he really wanted to.
“L.J. is their best guy, and I knew I’d be matched up with him some,” DeCelle said. “He really doesn’t say much, he just plays really hard. I had some success because I was lucky and because Luke Charles threw some great passes.”
One of DeCelle’s head coaches at East is Catawba offensive line coach Brian Hinson, and Hinson came by after the game to tell DeCelle how proud he was of him.
The 5-foot-10 DeCelle got off to a blazing start. He had a 17-yard catch on UNCP’s first snap. But it wasn’t that easy very often. UNCP, ranked 10th, ended up winning a 34-31 dogfight.
“We had a lull for a while and our coaches had warned us that we couldn’t afford a lull against Catawba,” DeCelle said. “Still, we got the win, and we go home 6-0. In a way, I’m glad it’s my last game against Catawba. This is the third one, and all three were very tough.”
DeCelle has failed to come through for UNCP only once. He was the guy who showed Nate Charest around on his recruiting visit to UNC Pembroke. Charest ended up signing with Catawba instead. Charest had 10 catches for 153 yards against the Braves on Saturday.
• Former South Rowan standout Cadarreus Mason also made several plays for UNCP.
Mason, a junior, has played mostly linebacker in college, but he now has a hand on the ground as a defensive end.
“I think I’ve found a home,” Mason said with a smile.
Mason, 6-1, 250 pounds, is listed as a second-teamer on the UNCP depth chart, but he got the starting call Saturday, possibly because he was playing so close to home.
The adrenaline was flowing, and he made the tackle on Catawba’s first snap, blowing up a running play for a 1-yard loss. Then he stopped another first-down rush by the Indians for a 2-yard gain.
Mason made two big third-down plays, chasing Catawba QB Danny O’Brien out of bounds a yard short of a first down, and later sacking O’Brien for a 15-yard loss to force a punt.
“Catawba has a great quarterback,” Mason said. “He has great awareness at all times. We just had to try to collapse the pocket around him and keep the pressure on.”
Mason has 20 tackles this season, including sacks against Winston-Salem State, Wingate and now Catawba.
Mason was not surprised Catawba turned out to be a difficult opponent.
“When you’re ranked as high as we are, someone’s looking to knock you off every single week,” he said.
• Former A.L. Brown quarterback Jonathan Efird is a UNCP senior this season. He was a star in high school and played in the East-West All-Star Game, but he’s come to terms with the fact that he’ll end his college career as a backup. But it’s not like he’s backing up an average guy. UNCP starter Luke Charles is one of the best in Division II.
“I still prepare myself every week like I’ll be the quarterback,” said Efird, who began his college career as a walk-on at Western Carolina. “Every guy on this team has a role and my role is to be a leader on the sideline, a leader by example and to be ready in case something happens to Luke.”
When Charles had to leave for one play Saturday when his helmet was knocked off, Efird came in and threw an incomplete pass. DeCelle was his target but was falling down as Efird flipped the ball over his head.
Most of Efird’s time on the field comes as the holder for place-kicks. He handled that role flawlessly Saturday, including the hold on what proved to be a decisive 48-yard field goal in damp conditions.
“Our kicker (Connor Haskins) has been great, and he’s got a lot of confidence that the snap and the hold are going to be there for him,” Efird said.
The college football experience is important for parents and families. They make a commitment to a program almost as great as the one made by the players.
The parents of DeCelle and Mason were at Catawba Saturday, and they were thrilled that their sons had played so well. Efird’s family was smiling too.
“For years, we were kind of upset and frustrated Jonathan wasn’t playing, but maybe we’ve matured some along with the players,” Efird’s father, Donnie said. “Jonathan is doing well and he has a role. This year, he’s part of a team that has a chance to do some great things.”
• Strong safety Mark McDaniel (South Rowan) made Catawba’s biggest play Saturday, a 33-yard interception return for a touchdown. Catawba was on the verge of being blown out 24-3 when McDaniel came up with his momentum-changing pick. McDaniel had been out since the Carson-Newman game with a bruised lung.
“He’s been sorely missed,” Catawba head coach Curtis Walker said.
• Shawn Galloway (East), a backup receiver, played on special teams for Catawba on Saturday. He also played in early wins against West Liberty and Livingstone. Freshman Dalton Bost (East) has played in two games for the Indians. Trey Mashore (West Rowan) carried twice for 3 yards on Saturday. Jamal Lackey (Davie) made three tackles for the Indians against UNCP. Tim Pangburn (West) played on the offensive line.
• Isaiah “Zay” Laster (West) played some at quarterback in Livingstone’s 45-21 loss to Shaw after starter Drew Powell was injured. Laster completed one pass for 12 yards.
• Lenoir-Rhyne’s Isaiah “Ike” Whitaker (Salisbury) had a game Saturday that puts him in the running for SAC Player of the Week. The fullback carried 33 times for 163 yards for the Bears in a 35-14 win over Newberry that put L-R in first place in the SAC.
Whitaker lost yardage on only one carry and scored on runs of 19, 3 and 14 yards.
• In J.C. Smith’s 35-26 loss to Fayetteville State, Erick Amaya (A.L. Brown) kicked off five times for the Golden Bulls and boomed four touchbacks. Amaya was 2-for-2 on PATs. Former A.L. Brown DBs J.P. Lott and Jamar Clemmons made two tackles apiece for the Golden Bulls, and Lott broke up a pass.
• Charleston slotback John Knox (Salisbury) had a major role in a 31-9 win against nearby rival West Virginia State. Knox caught TD passes of 29 and 14 yards.
Knox had six rushes for 57 yards and caught five passes for 75 yards.
• Quentin Sifford (West) made one tackle in West Liberty’s 32-13 loss to Urbana.
True freshman Keion Adams (Salisbury) started at defensive end for Western Michigan in Saturday’s 38-17 loss to Ball State. Adams had one impact play on which he sacked the quarterback for an 8-yard loss and forced a fumble. A teammate scooped the ball and scored a TD.
Adams had five tackles in the game and has the size/speed combination to eventually be a pro linebacker.
• Domonique Noble (West) started at cornerback and had four tackles, including one for loss, in Georgia Tech’s 56-0 rout of Syracuse.
• Kevin Parks (West) scored all three Virginia TDs in a 35-22 loss to Duke on Saturday. Parks had two 1-yard scoring runs and scored on a 13-yard pass play.
Parks carried 15 times for 50 yards and caught six passes for 88 yards. Parks had the Cavaliers up 22-0 at one point.
•Jared Barber (Davie) again led West Virginia’s defense. The linebacker had nine tackles, two for loss, and broke up a pass in a 37-27 loss to Texas Tech.
•Darien Rankin (Salisbury) made two tackles for UNC in Thursday’s 27-23 loss to Miami.
• Arkansas defensive end Chris Smith (West) was in on four tackles in a 52-0 loss to Alabama.
• Bradley Pinion (NW Cabarrus) averaged 38 yards on five punts as Clemson was battered by Florida State.
• Shaun Warren (Carson) returned two kickoffs for 30 yards for Western Carolina in a 21-17 loss to Wofford.
• Charlotte (A.L. Brown’s Kalif Phillips) and South Carolina State (North’s Javon Hargrave) had open weeks.
Guilford’s Adam Smith (Davie) had four catches for 54 yards in a 21-14 win against Bridgewater.
• Averett’s Zack Grkman (Carson) had an interception and eight tackles in a 42-20 loss to Ferrum. Hobie Proctor (West) kicked two PATs and handled kickoff duties for Averett. Averett’s Dante Pinkston (A.L. Brown) contributed 37 yards on a punt return and kickoff return.
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