Friday Night Hero: North Rowan’s Will Anthony
Published 12:15 am Thursday, November 9, 2017
By Mike London
SPENCER — North Rowan’s offense is nearing 4,000 yards for the season, a balanced assault that has included 2,214 rushing yards and 1,741 yards through the air.
And 50 offensive touchdowns.
Veteran Jaleel Webster, a Rowan County Player of the Year candidate, accounts for nearly 200 yards per game on rushes, receptions and returns, while junior quarterback Willis Mitchell has accounted for almost all of the Cavaliers’ aerial yards.
Their huge seasons have been triggered by North’s offensive line, the guys who always get yelled at the most and get the least credit.
The leader of that line is senior center Will Anthony.
“Will is the cog, the piece that keeps our offense going,” North head coach Ben Hampton. “He makes all the calls. He’s critical to our success.”
Anthony is a guy, you may recall, who temporarily retired from football. He didn’t play at all as a sophomore. His teammates spent that entire school year recruiting him, trying to talk him into returning to the field because there just aren’t that many 6-foot-3, 265-pound teenagers in Spencer.
“My dad wanted me to play, Coach Hampton bugged me just about every day about playing, and my teammates kept after me,” Anthony said. “Basically, everybody kept after me. I really don’t even remember why I stopped playing.”
North was 5-7 in 2015, the year Anthony sat out.
North was 11-3 last season, with a conference title and two 2A playoff victories, after Anthony made his comeback. Not that he was personally responsible for such a dramatic turnaround, but he does make a difference. He’s a smart guy as well as a large guy. This season, even with a restructured offensive line that subtracted two all-conference players (Taelor Davis and Terry Cathcart) and installed three new starters, North has managed an 8-3 record.
“Will is a farm-strong kid,” Hampton said. “And while he’s a nice kid in the halls and in the classroom, he brings a little bit of nastiness out to the field. He has the right mentality to be a good offensive lineman.”
Anthony made first team all-county as well as all-conference last season, a special achievement for a guy who had been on hiatus for a year. He’s headed for more accolades this season, although he’s still more comfortable knocking down linebackers than he is talking about himself.
“We had our struggles early in the year because we had to replace some really good guys,” Anthony said. “But we’ve worked very hard at it. We’ve learned. We’ve picked up a lot of stuff. I’m not one to brag, but we’ve become a pretty solid offensive team, and that does feel good.”
North has two talented backs in Webster and sophomore Malcolm Wilson. Anthony and his line mates — Bryson Deal is the other experienced starter — have been able to open up inside running lanes for the speed guys, and North’s receivers have taken pride in blocking. That pride that has led to big runs on the outside.
“Our pass blocking usually has been great and our run blocking has been pretty good,” Anthony said. “The coaches have stressed being able to run the ball effectively every night. If we can run, that opens up the pass.”
Anthony has surprised Hampton more than once by getting downfield on darting, weaving runs by Webster and Wilson to administer his second block on the play.
“Our linemen will bust it down the field and try to pancake somebody,” Hampton said. “If one of our backs gets to that second level, they want to be there blocking for them.”
Moving down to 1A this season, North has played weaker opponents in the Yadkin Valley Conference. Anthony has challenged himself and his teammates in those games, even when lopsided victories over schools such as North Moore, Chatham Central and South Davidson were foregone conclusions.
North romped against South Davidson, 49-0, last week. It was 42-0 early in the second quarter. It would’ve been easy to go through the motions. Anthony didn’t. It was Senior Night, and he wanted to perform at his usual standard.
“Even when you play against a team that you know you should dominate, it’s important to go out and execute and to keep the intensity high,” Anthony said.
North won’t have to hold anything back on Friday. On the road at Polk County in the 8 vs. 9 game in the 1AA West playoffs, the Cavaliers expect a fight. Polk County is 7-4, but the four losses have all been to winning teams, including powerhouses Mountain Heritage and Mitchell.
North’s three losses also have been to winning squads — West Rowan, West Montgomery and North Stanly.
“We’ve got some great players and we know we can win in the playoffs,” Anthony said. “We’ve been up against tough teams before like West Rowan and North Stanly. For us, it’s just a matter of execution. We just have to execute.”
NOTES: Wilson,who has 523 rushing yards and 11 TDs, sprained an ankle on Friday. It’s a low ankle sprain, not nearly as bad as a high one. He may be able to play. If he can’t go, Webster will shoulder an even bigger burden than usual. … Some odd things happened with the playoff brackets. When the preliminary brackets came out, North was a No. 8 seed and Polk County was No. 9. Then their seeds were reversed when the final pairings were issued. “The explanation we got was that they hadn’t updated the MaxPreps rankings to include Friday’s games,” Hampton said. “We won 49-0 Friday and Polk County won 42-24, but they still jumped up ahead of us in those rankings. A lot of people have complained about the playoff seeds and pairings this year, but we’re not going to do that. The bottom line is we’re playing Polk County and it doesn’t really matter to me if we’re playing them in Spencer or we’re playing them in Columbus. We’ve just got to show up and play.” …No.1 seed Mount Airy awaits the Polk-North Rowan winner.