Prep Football: South Rowan young but getting better every day
By Mike London
LANDIS — Fifty-five determined South Rowan Raiders bear-crawl their way across a practice field, but 40 helmets — with no teenage heads in them — sit idle in the locker room.
South Rowan’s new football coach, Daniel Yow, faces a towering obstacle with such small numbers, but he approached the first official day of practice with enthusiasm, optimism and patience.
Patience is going to be key this year for everyone involved with South football because the Raiders may be the youngest team in Rowan County history.
If the season started tomorrow, South, which went 3-8 with a senior-laden team in 2014, would start four sophomores on the offensive line.
“Youth is a gift and a curse,” Yow said. “It’s tough to be successful without experience, but we’ve got a great group of kids. They’re getting better every day.”
Yow’s seniors can be counted on his two hands. His junior class isn’t any larger.
“Our freshman group is by far our biggest,” Yow said. “We’ll be sophomore-heavy on varsity and freshmen-heavy on jayvee, but I still think we can turn some heads.”
Yow has worked tirelessly since he was hired in April, and he’s identified a core group of leaders.
“The same kids that led us all spring and summer are leading us again today,” Yow said. “Kids we had questions about in the spring are now guys we know we can count on.”
Yow learned a lot from Hickory Ridge coach Marty Paxton and has borrowed freely from the Ragin’ Bulls. Emulating Hickory Ridge, Yow implemented a series of tests that measure his player’s growth in the weight room, the 40-yard dash and shuttle drills. Players can earn up to five stars for faithful participation in offseason workouts, as well as for concrete physical progress. Those stars provide exemptions from some of the grueling running at the end of practice.
“No one wants to practice two hours and then run, so the stars are incentive to get off the couch,” Yow said. “We can’t make the offseason workouts mandatory and you can’t punish kids who don’t participate, but you try to find a way to reward the ones that do.”
South Rowan has one player who has achieved the five-star level — Austin Chrismon. Yow said eight to 10 players, including QB Heath Barringer, had earned four stars.
The defense, wearing black jerseys at practice, calls itself “The Dark Side.” One of the defenders, Tre Littlejohn, has just moved up from a two-star to the three-star level and is eager to see his star power updated on the board that keeps track of it all.
Tyler Rary, a receiver who performed well for South in basketball and baseball, suffered a thumb injury in a 7-on-7 scrimmage against North Rowan. He probably will miss at least the first two games.
South Rowan’s kicking game should be as good as anyone’s with kicker/receiver Brennan Lambert, who boots footballs into the end zone, and punter Marshall Long, returning.
Long traveled 6,000 miles this summer to camps and will be a major Division I signee. He’s already been named an Army All-American and was chosen to play in the All-American Game in San Antonio in January.
Besides head coaching duties, Yow is coaching the quarterbacks and running backs.
But quite a few staff members who served previous head coach Jason Rollins are still on board.
Ronnie Riddle will be Yow’s defensive coordinator, while veteran Jarrod Smith will have play-calling responsibilities on offense. Jim Brooks has been around a long time and is back for another year. Ex-Marine Chad Springer, a recent hire, is instilling discipline in young receivers. Newly hired head boys basketball coach Andre McCain, who played college football, will be an asset to Yow’s staff as well.
South has a youth camp coming up next Saturday and plans an intrasquad game at Donnell Stadium.
South will scrimmage North Rowan on Aug. 12.
On Aug. 14, the Raiders will be part of a jamboree in Mooresville. South will take on West Iredell in that event.