Three Wonders sign
KANNAPOLIS — Every National Signing Day, upbeat A.L. Brown head football coach Mike Newsome gets even bouncier.
Most coaches like signing day. Newsome adores it. On his list, NSD ranks right up there with family birthdays and Christmas as a joyous occasion. Watching his guys sign is as emotional for him as rallying to win a MECKA conference game.
“This is a great day for the Wonders,” Newsome bellowed. “I love this day. That first Wednesday in February is a special day. For a kid to sign on that day, it means he’s got only great football ability, he’s been a great student. Every junior who plays football should make this his goal — to be standing up here at this time next year.”
Newsome beamed and watched a trio of Wonders sign on dotted lines — middle linebacker Kyrell Williamson, center Kaleb Spry and receiver Johnny Delahoussaey.
Spry, 285 pounds and still growing, is headed to Western Carolina. No surprise there. He verbally commited way back. For Williamson and Delahoussaey, the decisions were made after the calendar had turned to 2014. Williamson, not a big linebacker at 220, but quick and smart, chose Winston-Salem State, a power in Division II. Delahoussaey, on the small side at 175 pounds but swift and tough, will head to West Virginia to play at D-II Charleston University. Rowan football fans are familiar with Charleston because that’s where former Salisbury QB John Knox is an all-conference standout.
Delahoussaey is universally known as Johnny D. for obvious reasons. He’s developed a keen sense of humor about his mouthful of a surname.
“Look, I know it’s hard to spell,” he said with a smile. “I don’t expect people to be able to spell it. I’m happy if they can just say it. Or come close to saying it.”
His introduction to Charleston came when a coach arrived on the A.L. Brown campus.
“They called me out of class, said there was a college coach that wanted to see me,” Delahoussaey said. “He’d seen film of me and liked what he saw. He said he was from Charleston. I’d never heard of them.”
Delahoussaey liked the way the stadium looked and visited the school. The trip was long, but not as long as he expected.
“I guess 4 1/2 hours,” Delahoussaey said. “Depends on how fast your parents drive.”
One of the players Johnny D. met at Charleston was Knox. That had to be an interesting get-together, a kid from Salisbury and a kid from Kannapolis high-fiving in West Virginia.
“Knox was in the weight room lifting,” Johnny D. said. “He was one of the stars, and you could tell. He was bringing the energy up for everyone.”
Johnny D. liked Knox. He liked the campus and he liked Charleston’s spread offense.
“They caught my eye with a whole lot of things,” said Johnny D., who had 38 catches for 586 yards and seven TDs as a senior.
Two of those TDs came against North Meck. Two more came against South Rowan, his father’s school.
Johnny D. is versatile. He played some defensive back during his high school career, but he expects to be an outside receiver for Charleston.
“I can do different things and I’ll do whatever it takes to get in the door, “ he said. “I’ll go up there ready to work and take whatever I can get.”
One thing he’ll get is a red and gold uniform. He dressed nattily in red and gold for National Signing Day, but he’s still bleeding green.
“I’ll need to wear something green,” said Johnny D., who plans to major in sports management. “Green gloves, maybe.”
Williamson was still playing on the defensive line as a sophomore. He made the switch to linebacker when the Wonders were still competing in the 3A South Piedmont in 2012, steadily improved his conditioning, footwork and lateral movement and earned all-league honors.
In 2013, as A.L. Brown transitioned to 4A, he was MECKA Defensive Player of the Year, and that’s in a league that included heavyweights Mallard Creek and Hough.
“It was mostly about getting to the place where I understood things so well I could play very fast, without having to think about it,” Williamson explained.
He was the main cog in an pretty good defense. The coaching staff said early in the season that the defense would go as Williamson went, and the Wonders reduced their points-allowed numbers from 2012.
Williamson’s shining moment was a forced fumble that led to the only score of the game in a 7-0 victory against a strong Weddington club.
Williamson thought about waiting to see if any bigger offers came in, but he’s very happy with Winston-Salem State.
“I’m proud to be a Ram,” he said. “I’m sure it’s the right choice. When I went there, it was all about family and commitment, and that’s what I wanted to hear. I can see Winston-Salem being my home, not just for a few months, but for four years. I’ll go there focused and ready to work.”
New Winston-Salem State head coach Kienus Boulware played at UNC and was defensive coordinator for the Rams before he became head coach. The Rams allowed the fewest yards per game of anyone in D-II last season. Williamson, who plans to major in communications, could help them remain a regional power.
Spry knew where he was going to college as soon as he visited Western Carolina, where A.L. Brown graduate Mark Speir is the head coach, Gardner-Webb also offered early.
“A lot of the Western coaches had shared interests with me,” Spry said. “They understand tradition. It’s as important to them as it is to me. When I visited, I kept checking things off in my head, and Western got a check mark for everything.”
Spry’s father is a police officer and worked security at many Wonder games.
“My dad would tell me all the Wonder stories,” Spry said. “The Lotts, Nick Maddox — he’d never seen anyone run the ball like Nick did. I couldn’t wait to be part of that tradition myself.”
He became a pretty serious part of it. Twenty years from now, Spry will be one of the players remembered from the 2012-13 teams.
A knee injury cost him the 2011 season, but he came back better than ever. He’s strong, bench-pressing 350 pounds and is a solid athlete. He runs 4.8-4.9 40s, impressive wheels for a young man his size.
“I’ve always been a center, but the coaches at Western told me I moved like a guard and pass-blocked like a tackle,” Spry said. “I’ll play anywhere. Western has had growing pains with a young team, but 33 guys on their two-deep this year were freshmen and sophomores. I think they’ll be good before long.”
Besides his physical attributes, Spry is smart and plans a career in physical therapy. He’s one of the school’s top students. On football awards night, he accepted two major ones. He received the team academic award and the prestigious Lug Leazer Award which is the highest honor of all for a Wonder.
“Seeing my name on that award with names like Nick Maddox — that was very humbling,” Spry said.
Newsome expects more Wonders to sign in the months ahead, guys such as defensive lineman Kendall Holmes, DB Kenon Jones and tight end Jonathan Bryant to name just a few.
He had some parting words for the trio that signed early.
“You’re going well-prepared to college,” he said. “You’re going to meet a lot of guys who have never practiced like you’ve practiced and you’re going to meet guys who have never lifted like you’ve lifted. Just remember you have an opportunity to play football, but you are going to college to get an education. The NFL should be a dream, but not a goal. Your goal should be a degree.”