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Football edition: East Rowan profiles and capsules

East Rowan Football Preview 2018

 Mustangs at a Glance

Head coach: John Fitz (second season, 3-8)

2017 record: 3-8, 1-4 North Piedmont Conference (no play-offs)

Returning lettermen: 20

Returning starters: 10

Players to watch:

Christian Bennett, Sr., LB/RB, 6-0, 215, four-year varsity starter, two-time All-County and All-Conference, on track to be all-time leading tackler for East Rowan.

Sam Wall, Jr., RB/WR, 5-10, 170 – The primary offensive weapon for East rushed for 1,200 yards and 12 TDs last season to go with 24 receiving yards and four TDs. Add in two kick-off returns for scores and Wall had 18 touchdowns in 2017. Named All-County and All-Conference. Rushed for 214 yards against South Rowan last season, only the seventh East player to eclipse the 200 yard rushing mark in a game.

Elton Hooper, Jr., DE, 6-7, 215 – the towering defensive end is a pass rushing demon who led the team in sacks and batted passes. Named All-County and All-Conference.

Logan Forbis, Jr., QB, 5-10, 170 – Came up from the JV squad late last season and responded with 14-32-367 line and just two interceptions in five games. He closed the season with three TD passes in win over North Iredell.

Hunter Eagle, Sr., C, 5-11, 240 – a three-year varsity veteran, Eagle will anchor the offensive line for the Mustangs with his aggressiveness and leadership.

Gabe Hinceman Sr., 6-4, 170 WR/PK – hauled in three TD passes last season and nailed 21 extra points and two field goals as Mustang placekicker. Named All-County, he also scored on a 55-yard pick six against South Rowan last season. Will be primary receiving target in 2018 for East.

 

Hunter Eagle, Player profile for East Rowan

By Marny Hendrick
sports@salisburypost.com

GRANITE QUARRY – East Rowan senior Hunter Eagle had never played center before in his life and wasn’t sure he really wanted to. Since third grade Pee Wee football he was a defensive end then an offensive lineman in middle school.

“I actually did not play my freshman year here because I felt I needed a break from football,” Eagle recalled. When he returned to the Mustang varsity his sophomore year, he found himself implanted at the center position. “I had never actually played center before — ever. But I caught on and started learning more and I started to enjoy it.

Now entering his senior season at 240 pounds, Eagle toils in the anonymity of the center position … and he does it very well.

“Hunter is a great student, a great player and a great leader for us,” says second-year head coach John Fitz. “He works extremely hard on and off the field and does what you ask him to do and more.”

Like his academic skills, Eagle has become an outstanding student of the intricacies of the center position. He credits his growth as a player and a center to his offensive line coaches.

“In the past couple of seasons, I have really grown a lot and learned how to recognize what the defense is doing,” he says. “I especially note what my man is doing and try to exploit that.”

For Eagle, the key to being an effective center is technique and aggressiveness. “I work hard on my technique every day,” he says, “You have just got to be aggressive with it because if you hold back at all you are going to get beat. You want to win every play.”

Playing center, or any offensive line position, does not put a player in the spotlight very much. Eagle accepts that fact but notes that if you get beat on a play and your quarterback gets sacked, suddenly everyone knows who you are. “Yes, we get praise from the coaches on big plays but if you give up a loss you can count on getting yelled at.” he says.

Eagle is excited about the new pro-style offense the Mustangs will employ this season which put more emphasis on the power running game. “I think it is a great offense that is better suited for this team and the players we have,” he says. “For me and our offensive line, the techniques are still basically that same. You still have to contain the defense.”

A key to success on the offensive line is communication and recognizing what the defense is doing on any given play. “On our offensive line, everybody talks including Hunter,” noted Fitz. “But he has always got to know what everybody else is doing, and he always does.”

Off the football field, Eagle spends most of his time working on keeping his grades at a high level. He has become especially proficient at computer technology as well.

“But football has always been my passion, he says. “And I would like to continue playing beyond high school.” If that opportunity comes along, look for Eagle to be right in the center of the line snapping the ball.

Before his senior season is over, however, Eagle has one improbable dream. “I would really like to score a touchdown before I graduate,” he says with a big grin. Don’t bet against him.

•••

East Preview Profile – Christian Bennett, OLB and RB

By Marny Hendrick
sports@salisburypost.com

GRANITE QUARRY — Even a casual fan of high school football in Rowan County has to know about East Rowan’s Christian Bennett. If you are not sure, just look for the ball when the Mustangs are on defense and you find No. 23 extremely close by.

The 6-0, 215-pound linebacker will likely be the all-time leading tackler in East Rowan history by the time his senior season ends. He has been a four-year standout on the team since his freshman year and has been first team All-County and All-Conference for the past two seasons. This season, he is the legitimate leading candidate for the county defensive player of the year.

Obviously Bennett has excellent football skills but there is so much more that defines what kind of person he is.

“The part as to why Christian is important to us has nothing to do with football,” says East head Coach John Fitz. “He is a great kid and he’s a leader, not just a leader on the field but a leader off the field and a leader in the classroom. I tell my players all the time that you can’t just be a champion on the field … you have to be a champion everywhere and that is exactly the kind of person Christian is.”

But make no mistake, Bennett is a really great football player.

In the past, Bennett has been an inside linebacker stuffing the run and harassing the opposing quarterback. This season, the Mustangs will take full advantage of his size, speed and athleticism by moving him to and outside linebacker/strong safety position. From there he can rush the passer or drop back in pass coverage depending on the defensive situation.

“He will be more like a rush end for us,” Fitz says, “because that is the best place for him to help us plus that is the best place for him as a college prospect. He is that kind of player.”

Fitz pegs him as a low Division I or outstanding Division II prospect with his height being the only concern for college scouts. But his work ethic, his speed and his heart as a player makes him a solid prospect at any college level.

The humble yet confident Bennett also has his sights set on a playing career beyond high school but first wants to close out his high school playing days with a bang.

“I feel like in four years of starting as a varsity player has been a long learning experience for me,” he says. “I had to grow up real fast. I feel I am a student of the game and football is a real passion of mine.”

As for his senior year goals, he has set them high. “I want us to go as far as we can in the playoffs, he says. “I know that is everybody’s goal to go all the way but I feel like we can do it if we put our heart and mind into it.”

Bennett noted that his middle school team at Erwin, where he was a star running back, went undefeated so why not the Mustangs? While he will primarily be the defensive mainstay for East this season, he will also see action in the backfield for the offense as a power running back.

“I will be a goal line back but I can tell you this, if I get the ball it is a guaranteed three yards,” he says. That kind of statement from Bennett is not meant to be cocky, just an example of his leadership and work ethic.

“Leadership is a big part of my game,” Bennett says. “I have been a leader on this team pretty much since my freshman year. I have learned a lot and it helped me become a good athlete. I try to lead by example and show others how it is supposed to be done. Plus I don’t let anybody outwork me.”

The best example of Bennett’s work ethic is not on the field but in the weight room. Coach Fitz notes that he gauges his players in the weight room with a power index based on how much they lift compared to how much they weigh. Bennett at 215 pounds has blown the doors off the index by squatting 485 pounds, a clean and jerk over his head of 300-plus pounds  and a bench press of 315 pounds. The Mustangs give out T-shirts for the total weight lifted and so far the highest number available is 1,500 pounds. “But it looks like we might have to get a 1,600 pound shirt for Christian before he is through.”

As for Bennett, he looks at his weight room work is just an extension of what he wants to accomplish on the field. “When you go in the weight room, the No. 1 goal is to get stronger and better for football,” he says. “But that is true of any sport you play. You want to get ahead of everybody and that is my focus in the weight room.”

I addition to football, Bennett is an outstanding student, plays on the varsity basketball team and is also a top track performer for the Mustangs.

But football is definitely in his future. “He has an older brother who played college football so Christian knows what it takes to get there,” Fitz said. “He has really put himself in a position to play college football. If you are good enough, the colleges will find you and he is definitely good enough.”

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