College Football: Former East Rowan star contributing as true freshman
GRANITE QUARRY — To redshirt or not to redshirt, that’s always the question for the freshmen.
It was assumed that Donte Means would redshirt this season at Catawba. After all, the former East Rowan star is small for college football. He stands 5-foot-9 and weighs 165 pounds.
But Catawba head coach Curtis Walker always keeps an open mind when it comes to redshirts.
“We never, ever talk about redshirting this person or that person when he comes in,” Walker said. “It’s up to the young man and what he can do and what he shows us. Is he prepared to play college football mentally? Is he ready to play physically? Donte was ready. He has this great demeanor about him.”
Means has played special teams in all three games. He returned three kickoffs in Catawba’s 37-34 win at Newberry on Saturday that required two overtimes. That was a thrill for the youngster.
“It was the first time I’d gotten to touch the ball in a college game,” Means said. “And it was a crazy game to be part of.”
Means’ high school career in Granite Quarry as a DB/kick returner was a highlight film — game-breaking pick-sixes against West Iredell and West Rowan, two kickoff returns for touchdowns against South Rowan, plus a long receiving score against Concord when he made a cameo appearance on offense.
Jason Barnes, who coordinated East Rowan’s defense last season, said Means was the best athlete that he’s ever coached.
Means was All-Rowan County in football, basketball and track. That was partly because of being strong for his size and having a good head on his shoulders, but it was mostly because of his exceptional 37-inch vertical jump. He can easily dunk a basketball despite his modest stature.
Means worked with the defensive backs when preseason camp began, but the decision was made to move him to offense. He’s currently No. 3 on the depth chart at slot receiver behind sophomore star Carlos Tarrats and senior Dalton Pierce.
“The coaches saw me as someone who was more natural with the ball in my hands,” Means said. “Moving to offense was fine with me. I just try to stay focused and do my work every day. Dalton has helped me a lot, and Trey Mashore has helped me a lot.”
Mashore starred at West Rowan and had a 100-yard kickoff return TD for Catawba against Mars Hill as a true freshman. West Rowan and East Rowan are rivals, but Mashore and Means are now the guys working side-by-side to return kickoffs for the Indians.
“We’ve kind of put that old East vs. West thing behind us,” Means said with a laugh.
Means is quiet, one of those people who doesn’t speak unless he’s spoken to or has something important to say.
“He’s so quiet it almost startles you when he says something,” Pierce said. “But he’s impressed me. He was thrown right into the fire, but he’s shown he can handle it.”
While Means didn’t break any long returns Saturday, Walker believes it’s just a matter of time.
“He sees the cuts and he’ll hit the crease at full speed,” Walker said. “If we block things right, he’s going to break some big ones. There’s no doubt in my mind.”
A strong student, Means has made the transition to the college classroom easily.
“It’s a lot different than high school, but I’m enjoying it,” he said. “I’m learning a lot. That’s why I’m here.”
Mostly Means just goes about his business silently. He’s happy to contribute now, and it’s likely his role will be larger down the road.
“He’s a great person with no character flaws and he has a great work ethic,” Walker said. “His actions are going to speak louder than his words.”
Follow Mike London on Twitter at @mikelondonpost3.