Prep Football Practice: North Rowan reloads
By Mike London
SPENCER — North Rowan head football coach Ben Hampton celebrates his 33rd birthday today, but the official family gathering, which included his brother-in-law, West Rowan head coach Joe Nixon, took place on Sunday.
“One of the things Joe and I talked about was that we’ve both only got about five returning starters back, and that’s offense and defense together,” Hampton said. “That means we’ve got our work cut out for us, but we’ve both got some new, young faces that will make an impact.”
North Rowan and West Rowan will rely on those new faces early. The schools haven’t squared off on a football field since 2012 when Nixon was coaching North and Hampton was part of his staff. That will change on Aug. 25, Week 2 of the upcoming season, when the Cavaliers travel to Mount Ulla.
Realignment has created drastic change for both schools. North Rowan is back in the 1A Yadkin Valley Conference after four years of 2A competition, while West Rowan is now in the six-team North Piedmont Conference after being a member of a 10-team South Piedmont Conference. That’s meant scheduling upheaval. The Cavaliers and Falcons took advantage of the opportunity to reinstate one of the county’s traditional rivalries.
Since they’re now in different leagues, North Rowan’s clash with its biggest rival, Salisbury, will kick off the regular season (on Aug. 18), rather than conclude it.
“We’ve scheduled heavy in the non-confererence part,” Hampton said. “Salisbury, then West, then Lexington and Carson.”
Hampton will again wear multiple hats — AD, head football coach, offensive coordinator, running backs coach. This will be his sixth year at North, his third as head coach. His teams are 16-10.
A conference champion with an 11-3 record in 2016, North Rowan is faced with the daunting task of moving forward without six first-team All-Rowan County players, including QB Corbin Smith, the Central Carolina Conference Offensive Player of the Year, and dominating lineman Zion DeBose, the CCC Defensive Player of the Year.
Still, there’s enough respect for the speed and strength that North puts on the field that a pair of prognosticators — CarolinaPreps and Carolina Gridiron — have welcomed North back to the 1A ranks with a lofty preseason ranking of fourth in the state.
“We’re back in the same 1A league we were in before, but it’s a new league in the same breath,” Hampton said. “The balance of power has shifted some since we were in the YVC five years ago (Albemarle was a terror then), but West Montgomery is still one of the best in the state in 1A. And North Stanly is in the league now. We’re going to see a very good team from them. This league isn’t going to be tough.”
Much of North Rowan’s returning talent is concentrated on the defensive line where the Cavaliers will bunch three of their most talented and experienced players — Matthew Hoosier, Chaz McCombs and Darren Williams.
There’s ongoing competition for the quarterback job, but whoever takes the snaps will have an offensive anchor in returning all-county running back Jaleel Webster (192 carries, 1,466 rushing yards, 12 TDs). Sophomore Malcolm Wilson also has looked impressive carrying the ball.
It’s not often that freshmen secure starting jobs after the first week of official practice, but Hampton is certain strong safety Xavier Davis and cornerback Jaharion Graham are going to be heard from for years to come.
“They are very impressive freshmen,” Hampton said.
Another surprise addition for the Cavaliers is Josh Mason, an experienced fullback/defensive lineman who transferred from DeMatha High in the Washington, D.C., area.
While a stable coaching staff returns almost intact from a year ago, there’s an important addition — Mark Woody, the former Carson head coach and AD.
“Woody is a great defensive guy, and he’s a gain for our program,” Hampton said. “He’s going to help Coach (Kelly) Everhart with the defensive line and his coaching experience and his AD experience are going to be a huge help to me. He’s been a friend for a long time.”
A lot of things cycle in football. Hampton once served as an assistant coach under Woody at Carson.
North will find out more about what it has this Friday when it takes part in the 10-team CarolinaPreps Jamboree at Mooresville. North is scheduled to scrimmage against West Caldwell. That’s the school coached by former Davie County head coach DeVore Holman.
North Rowan (1A)
• Aug. 18 Salisbury
• Aug. 25 at West Rowan
• Sept. 1 Lexington
• Sept. 8 Carson
• Sept. 15 Open
Sept. 22 North Moore
Sept. 29 South Stanly
Oct. 6 at Albemarle
Oct. 13 Chatham Central
Oct. 20 at North Stanly
Oct. 27 at West Montgomery
Nov. 3 South Davidson
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