College Football: Indians battle new foe, familiar face
By Mike London
SALISBURY — Catawba plays Limestone at 7 p.m. tonight at Gaffney High School in a non-conference game and will encounter a 6-foot, 225-pound linebacker who is very familiar to local football fans.
Logan Stoodley was an all-state linebacker at West Rowan and made 152 tackles as a senior when he was named 2012 Rowan County Defensive Player of the Year.
Many were surprised when Stoodley headed to Limestone in Gaffney, S.C., a school that would be starting football operations from scratch. He fell off the radar for a year as he was part of Limestone’s recruiting class of 2013. Everyone in the program redshirted that year.
“It was tough that first year not playing any games,” Stoodley said in a phone interview. “But it was a chance for everyone in this program to grow together. We created a good team atmosphere and we bonded and everyone had a chance to adjust together to the college game. It’s a big jump from high school, especially as far as the speed of the game.”
Limestone began competing on the field in 2014, with a team of redshirt freshmen, going 2-9 against a wide range of opponents. Stoodley played in all 11 games, made 34 tackles, five for loss, and had a sack against Newberry.
Under the leadership of former Wingate defensive coordinator Bobby James, Limestone has traveled a long way in a short time as a Division II program, and the school added a marching band and dance team to help the cheerleaders build an exciting college football atmosphere, in a huge high school stadium that rivals almost any small college venue.
While Limestone isn’t in the South Atlantic Conference, it is playing everyone in the SAC this season.
“We were all excited when we found out about the schedule upgrade,” Stoodley said. “Really good programs that everyone knows.”
Limestone (1-3) lost, 17-12, in adverse field conditions against unbeaten Wingate last week, an indication of how much the Saints have improved. This is still a youthful program led by redshirt sophomores such as Stoodley.
Stoodley rotates at middle linebacker in a 4-3 defense with Evan Patrick from Charlotte’s Olympic High. Both players are sure tacklers as well as roommates.
Stoodley shined in recent weeks in losses to Mars Hill and Lenoir-Rhyne. His best game was at Wingate, where he made eight tackles, three in the Bulldogs’ backfield.
“Logan has been having a great year for us,” James said. “He’s a tremendous leader and has outstanding instincts at the (Mike) linebacker position. Every week he continues to get better and better. We are really lucky to have a person of such high character and athletic ability on our team.”
Catawba (3-2) comes into the game on a roll after a comeback victory against Newberry and is eager to build on finishing off a tough game in tough conditions.
“We’ve had a hard week of practice and we want to come back with a lot of fire,” receiver Brandon Brown said. “Limestone is a young team, but they’re a good team, and it’s important to be on the attack early.”
Catawba coach Curtis Walker doesn’t expect a routine victory.
“I was part of a start-up program myself not that long ago (at Coastal Carolina),” Walker said. “It’s a unique situation. Guys build trust in their teammates, they really get close, and that’s why Limestone has gotten as good as it has in such a short period of time.”
Limestone’s offense is centered around extra-large QB Bo Whitney (6-foot-5, 250 pounds), who rushed for 127 yards against Wingate.
Running back Cary Littlejohn has anchored Catawba’s offense with 491 rushing yards and 5.0 yards per carry. David Burgess and Eamon Smart also have been doing some damage on the ground.
Outside linebackers Jamal Lackey (39 tackles) and Kyle Kitchens (four sacks) have been terrors for Catawba’s stout defense.
If the first meeting of the schools turns into a defensive struggle, that would suit Stoodley fine. He’s been in a few of those.
It’s homecoming for the Saints.
“Games against strong programs like Wingate and Catawba, you look forward to those games,” Stoodley said. “You take those games as a great challenge.”