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Catawba Football: Careers winding down for seniors

SALISBURY — For Derrick Lee, the Catawba Indian with the distinctive hip-hop haircut, this football season has been more than he probably ever imagined.

Lee, 22, is a 2010 graduate of Jordan-Matthews High in Siler City. He’s 6 feet tall, although his high-rising hair makes him look more like 6-foot-3. Once a backup tight end and offensive lineman, Lee was switched to defense last year and has been a solid starter at defensive end for the Indians this season.

The Catawba injury list gets longer every week — head coach Curtis Walker reports that 23 names are on it now — but the 260-pound Lee proved his durability by starting every week.

“He might not have huge stats, but he’s played his role in our system very well,” Walker said. “He’s really helped mold a young defense. Good student. Hard worker. You never have to worry about him doing his part.”

Lee has 27 tackles, 11th on the team. He has four tackles for loss and a sack.

When Catawba (5-4) hosts North Greenville (5-4) in a nonconference game on Saturday, it will be the last home game for quite a few Indians.

“It’s a sad time, but at the same time it’s a joyful time,” Lee said. “It won’t be long before I’m out in the real world, but I’m thankful I’ve had this opportunity to play at Catawba. We’ll leave it out there Saturday. We want to go out with a bang.”

••••

Fifth-year senior Dalton Pierce is graduating in December.

Pierce, 5-foot-9, 160 pounds, is a backup slot receiver on the depth chart. But since standout Carlos Tarrats is the starter, Pierce’s contributions are usually limited to special teams.

He’s had only two catches — for 1 yard — as a senior and has a modest 10 career receptions. Still, Walker appreciates what the former Mooresville wrestling standout has brought to the table at every practice as well as Saturdays.

“He’ll mix it up, and he doesn’t care how big the guy across from him is,” Walker said. “He’s never let size matter. He fights like crazy.”

Pierce is philosophical about a final football season that will fall short of his hopes.

“I’ve had a chance to be part of some great teams here, but none of them have had glamorous records,” Pierce said. “You start every season with a lot of high goals, but now some of them can’t be reached. Now we just want to go out on a winning note, and this last home game is very important to us. We’ll find out a lot about our character on Saturday.”

A political science major who is a fine student, Pierce expects to go on to graduate school.

•••

Fifth-year senior Richard Shuping is one of the backup quarterbacks.

He’s played in just two games and has thrown just one pass this season. He’s completed just one pass in his career — a 14-yard gain against Tusculum in 2012.

Still, he’s found ways to contribute.

“He’s done a lot as far as making all our quarterbacks better through his football knowledge,” Walker said. “He’s been very helpful.”

Shuping has made the most out of his time at Catawba. His career goal is to coach and every practice and every game is an important learning session.

“Nathan Lambert and I don’t get many physical reps in practice, but we get lots of mental reps,” Shuping said. “We’re constantly playing a guessing game, talking about what play we’d run next.”

Richard’s father, Todd, is a well known in the Piedmont as a high school coach. Todd Shuping coached Greensboro Grimsley to its first championship game in 40 years and to 14 wins in 2005. He also was a head coach at East Forsyth and was the head coach at Providence Grove when the school opened in rural Randolph County.

Richard Shuping played quarterback for his father at Providence Grove. His younger brother Nick is now a quarterback at Lexington. Todd Shuping is the linebackers coach at Lexington.

Richard spent some of his youth in Rowan County and he shared his father’s ups and downs as a high school coach.

“I want to be a coach — it’s all I know, but I want to be a college coach,” Shuping said.

Like Lee and Pierce, Shuping said Saturday’s home game — only the Indians’ fourth at Shuford Stadium this season — will mean a great deal to all of the Indians.

“That last home game will feel a little different, but yet it’s the same,” Shuping said. “It’s still about competing and winning.”

Mike London: 704-797-4259; twitter.com/mikelondonpost3

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