West Rowan Signing Day: Three linemen move on to college

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 7, 2016

MOUNT ULLA — Derrick Moreland remembers his first day at West Rowan Middle School.
The eighth-grader had been attending school in Mooresville. He was a big, intimidating guy, so it’s not surprising that the first two people brave enough to walk over and introduce themselves were equally large youngsters — Keldrick “K.J.” Wilson and Hezekiah Banks.
All three would become impact linemen for West Rowan High.
“K.J. and I have been best friends since that first day we met,” Moreland said. “That makes signing together today to play for the same college even more special.”
West Rowan held a signing party in the media center on Friday for its first three signers — Moreland, Wilson and Garrett Houston.
Many more are sure to follow.
Head coach Joe Nixon had a successful first season as West’s head coach. The signings topped it off.
“We had a heck of a ride this year (10-4, third round of the 3A playoffs) and it was led by our great senior class,” Nixon said. “I was fortunate to come here for the senior year for these guys. Some of them will be moving on to play college football and get an education, and that’s always a great day. It’s a great day for our program, for their families, for the community.”
Moreland, a dominating defensive lineman, and Wilson, a towering offensive lineman, will continue their long history as friends and teammates for the Hampton Pirates.
Hampton is a Division I FCS university in Virginia that competes in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference with schools such as North Carolina Central, North Carolina A&T and South Carolina State.
After being one of the county’s top defensive players the first half of the season, Moreland, primarily a defensive tackle but an explosive guy who also could move outside, tore an ACL. He was on the radar for major schools, but some recruiters backed off after the injury.
“It was a hard injury and it was hard not being out there with my teammates late in the season,” Moreland said. “I’m thankful Hampton is giving me a chance. I had surgery in November and I’m two months into coming back from it. My goal is to be football-ready by April or May.”
Hampton plays a 3-4 defense. Moreland (6-foot-4, 290 pounds) should fit in well. Even in an abbreviated senior season, he had 53 tackles, 17 tackles for loss and four sacks.
Wilson has plenty of upside after transitioning from tight end to right tackle prior to his senior season. He was a fast learner. He became a punishing pancaker for the Falcons.
“It was the biggest and best move I ever made,” said Wilson, who also has competed in track and basketball at West.
Wilson said his best games this year came in two of the Falcons’ biggest tests — close losses to South Piedmont Conference champion Concord and 3A runner-up South Point.
“I love the challenge,” Wilson said. “I think I played my best against the toughest opponents.”
Wilson (6-6, 292) is even bigger than Moreland. Like Moreland, he passes the eye test. They are big-framed guys who are mostly muscle.
Wilson will be blocking in a program that employs a balanced offense. Hampton, coached by former Winston-Salem State coach Connell Maynor, ran the ball 366 times last season while throwing 368 times. The Pirates went 6-5.
Wilson attracted a lot of recruiting attention in recent weeks. He made official visits to Mercer and South Carolina State as well as Hampton.
“The recruiting process was fun,” Wilson said. “I went up to Hampton right before the big snow and it just felt like the best place for me. Derrick had already committed to Hampton. That made it even better.”
Wilson said freshmen don’t pick their roommates, but he and Moreland would like to room together at some point as their college experience unfolds.
Wilson and Moreland are part of a 21-man recruiting class and will help replace the 20 players that Hampton lost.
“They’ve both got a great opportunity,” Nixon said.
Houston signed with Cheyney, a Division II school in Pennsylvania.
National Signing Day (Feb. 3) was Houston’s 19th birthday.
Like Wilson, Houston made a position transition relatively late, making a switch from defensive line to offensive line.
“I had some good games on the defensive line, but my future is on the offensive line,” Houston said.
Houston is strong, he’s big (6-2, 340), and he’s still growing. While he wasn’t a household name in high school, Cheyney sees a lot of potential.
“Cheyney’s coaches like me,” Houston said. “They need size and I’ll work on getting faster.”
Houston attended football camps at UNC, Wake Forest and South Carolina last summer and is determined to keep making progress. He started playing youth football in the third grade. He’s dedicated and has never missed a practice or game. He’s versatile and has experience at every offensive line position.
He has an interesting story. It was his first-grade teacher Leigh Yelton who encouraged him to get involved in football, and she was on hand on Friday to enjoy his signing moment.
“When I was in first grade the Carolina Panthers were in the Super Bowl (they lost to New England 32-29) and that’s when I got excited about football and knew I wanted to be a football player,” Houston said. “Now I’m signing, and the Panthers are back in the Super Bowl.”