HS Football: North Rowan preview
By David Shaw
SPENCER — Change is in the air at North Rowan.
There’s a new defensive coordinator, a new receivers coach, a new untested quarterback and — perhaps most importantly — an unquestionable, team-first attitude.
“Our boys have created a culture this summer, where they won’t accept failure,” said fifth-year coach Ben Hampton. “We may not run it right the first time, but we’re going to do it until we get it right. Our goal is to work every day and come out better than when we started.”
The Cavaliers (9-3, 6-1) return eight starters from a team that placed second in the Yadkin Valley Conference, earned a first-round bye in the 1AA state playoffs and was surprised by Polk County in Round 2. Hampton has tinkered with the team’s engine, replacing DC Josh Sophia — now the head coach at Camden County — with longtime linebackers coach Rodney Goodine. Receivers coach Kelly Everhart has retired, creating a slot for former Lexington coach Chuck Henderson, who can assist Hampton with play-calling. On paper, it sounds promising.
“We have the potential to have a high-tempo offense and a pretty stern defense,” Hampton noted. “But let’s be honest. There are going to be some growing pains.”
Those start with junior quarterback Kyree Sims (5-10, 180), who broke his hand in last season’s opening jayvee game. He’s fully recovered and has shown a strong arm, minus the accuracy Hampton wants. “Our quarterback has to get a little more confident,” he said. “He needs to understand he’s the captain of the ship. He’ll need to grow up in a hurry and grow into the role.”
Sims will operate behind a rebuilding offensive line. Only senior Justin Hughes (6-3, 290), an all-conference tackle/center, returns. “He knows every position on the OL,” Hampton said. “He moves well for a big kid and will help with our pull game. We’re also asking him to mentor some of the younger guys.”
One guy who needs no introduction is running back Malcolm Wilson (5-10, 190), the senior who bumped and bruised and weaved his way for 1,820 yards, caught 22 passes for 314 yards and scored 25 touchdowns. He exceeded 200 yards rushing against three opponents and was named Rowan County’s Offensive Player of the Year.
“Like 9.6 yards-per-carry,” Hampton gushed. “He was already the backbone of our offense — our workhorse — and he’s been killing it in the weight room. No days off.”
Receivers Denerio Robinson (6-5, 185) and James Gladden (5-9, 160) give North a couple of time-tested targets. Robinson came into his own late last season, making the toughest catches with artistic flair and earning all-YVC recognition. Gladden, a junior, is a shifty slot receiver with Charmin-soft hands who runs fluent routes.
North’s defense returns four starters, led by senior nose guard Malachi Turner (5-11, 295). All-county and all-conference in 2018, Hampton likens him to a bowling ball and adds: “He can occupy two blocks so the linebackers can roam free and do their jobs.”
Joining Turner on the D-line is East Rowan transfer Brandon Jefferson (6-3, 240), who’s family has moved to Spencer. A senior defensive end with an intriguing toolbox, he’s a disruptive pass-rusher and solid run-stuffer. “Adding him was huge,” said Hampton. “He’s fast and athletic. We expect him to have a high motor all the time.”
Senior Jordan Goodine (6-0, 225) heads the linebacking corps. A two-sport athlete with an offer to play baseball for Catawba, he’s ranked among the state’s top-five tacklers in 1A by both MaxPreps and High School OT. All-county and all-YVC last year, he brings a competitive streak and winning pedigree to the Cavs.
North’s lockdown secondary features juniors Zay Davis (5-9, 180) and Jaharion Graham (5-9, 180). Both were selected all-conference and all-county each of the past two seasons. “They’re spitting images of each other,” said Hampton. “Both are nose-to-the-grindstone guys. When the lights come on, you know you’re going to get their best.”
Davis and Graham will also handle kickoff and punt returns for North. Junior Randy Lemus, a former soccer player, will do the kicking. “(There is) no soccer team this year,” Hampton said. “But the last time we developed a great kicker, he came from the soccer program.”
North opens its season Aug. 23 at home against Salisbury. Including last week’s scrimmage with South Rowan, the Cavs will face all five county opponents before its YVC opener on Sept. 27.
“We haven’t arrived, by any means,” Hampton insisted. “We’ve got a lot of work to do. Can we mature fast enough? The foundation here is solid and we can build on it. We’ve got to become more efficient — you know, force teams to make mistakes and not make mistakes ourselves. The rest is to-be-determined.”
NORTH ROWAN FOOTBALL
2018 season: 9-3 (6-1 YVC, 2nd place)
State 1AA playoffs: lost 13-7 to Polk County in 2nd round
Head Coach: Ben Hampton (5th season, 33-17)
Returning starters: 8