Tatum a power for North

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 21, 2013

SPENCER — Football is changing, and prep football, specifically, is changing.
The 49-42 game has become almost normal as talented quarterbacks and spread offenses have made life tougher and tougher for defensive coordinators, assistants and players.
West Rowan averaged 30 points a game on offense this year and went 6-6. A.L. Brown averaged 30 and went 7-5. Davie scored 30 per night and went 4-7. East averaged 27 and went 4-8.
North Rowan doesn’t seem to be feeling the heat.
In a 4-2-5 defense, specifically designed to fight up-tempo spread offenses, the Cavaliers have put up oustanding numbers — 10.3 points allowed per game, 57 passing yards allowed per game, 168 yards allowed per game.
All three of those figures lead Rowan County by a lot, and the last three weeks, North’s scores have been 40-0, 41-0 and 42-0, so the defense is still getting better.
“They knew they could get shutouts and the coaches knew they could do it,” said Rodney Goodine, who coaches the back five in North’s 4-2-5. “It’s just been a matter of eliminating mistakes. The last three weeks we haven’t made many mistakes.”
If you’re an offensive coordinator watching tape of North, top-ranked in 2A for two months and 12-0 for the first time ever, there are a lot of scary guys on your screen. The scariest might be one of the cornerbacks — he’s 6-foot-4 and weighs over 200 pounds.
Seriously, North has a pretty good power forward playing cornerback. His name is Kenyon Tatum.
“He’s a big guy, but he’s an extremely athletic big guy,” head coach Joe Nixon said. “We play a lot of man coverage, and he’s not getting beat deep. He’s doing a great job.”
Tatum arrived at North in August, a transfer from Davie. His acceptance was immediate, however, because it’s not like he was a stranger.
“I went to elementary school with the North guys,” Tatum said. “I knew them, and they knew me.”
Tatum was best-known for basketball at Davie because he was a starter on great teams that included the Martin twins, who are committed to N.C. State. Tatum was a cog in a Davie machine that pounded North in the Sam Moir Christmas Classic final last season. This Christmas, he’ll be dunking wearing green.
While North players and coaches welcomed Tatum right away, he still had things to learn. He’d been well-coached at Davie, but he had to adapt to a new system without the benefit of the 7-on-7 summer tour.
“He made a few mistakes,” Goodine said. “But athleticism can make up for a lot of mistakes.”
Tatum’s impact was immediate, an interception against East Rowan opening night, a fumble return TD against Carson in Week 2, a huge fumble recovery when the Cavaliers were in the tightest spot they’ve been in all season at Statesville in Week 3.
He hasn’t had a chance to make as many big plays lately, probably because teams steer clear of him.
But he was tested against Surry Central in the first round of the playoffs on Friday, and he came up with a pick.
“They just kind of threw it up there,” Tatum said. “So I went up and got it. It was my first chance in a while, so I wanted it.”
The pick was one of 14 by the Cavaliers this season. Free safety Kasaun Coney has six, and Mike Robinson, a normal-sized guy who mans the opposite corner from Tatum, also has three.
“But when Tatum goes up for a ball, there’s no else that can do it quite like he does,” Goodine said. “He’s got those long legs, so you don’t realize it at first, but they just keep going higher and higher.”
Higher and higher is where the Cavaliers hope to be headed. They entertain run-oriented C.D. Owen from Black Mountain on Friday.
North should be ready for whatever comes, and a 13th win would mean a school record.
“We’ve always had athletes, but I’ve been here long enough to see us go from mediocre to bad and now to good,” Goodine said. “We’ve got a strong coaching staff and we’ve got a lot of good kids who have bought in. That’s when you have a very good team.”