Carolina Thundering Herd: Repeat national champs

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 18, 2021

By Mike London

SALISBURY — Back-to-back national champs.

The Carolina Thundering Herd, based in Salisbury and featuring a number of  local players, took its second straight national title in semi-pro football in Sunday night’s Sunshine Bowl played at Curtis Park in Miami.

In 2020, the Thundering Herd wrecked the Motor City Hawks 51-12 in Fort Lauderdale for their first championship. That romp completed a 13-2 season.

This time the Herd  won its semi-pro Super Bowl even more emphatically than the Tampa Bay Bucs won theirs. The Herd crushed the Tri-County Crusaders, who had made the long trip from Detroit, 26-0.

The Herd also won the championship game of the competitive Central Carolina Football League by a 26-0 score. The victim in that one was the Pee Dee Vikings, based in Darlington, S.C.

“We were good on offense and dominant on defense this season,” said Phillip Brown, one of the co-head coaches of the Herd. “Only two touchdowns were scored against our defense.”

That explains why the Herd went 11-0.

“That’s one of the things we talked about,” Brown said. “How could we possibly top the national championship we won in 2020? Well, one way to do that was by going undefeated. Undefeated is the goal we set for this team, and guys bought in, executed the game plans and schemes and trusted their teammates. Everyone was able to go 100 miles an hour.”

There were extra challenges that came with playing a COVID season. But the Herd players and coaches love the game. They did what they needed to do as far as COVID protocols.

The toughest obstacles were finding fields on which to play the games.

“Pre-COVID, we played our home games at Catawba,” Brown said. “This year we were only able to play two games at Catawba, so we also played games in Charlotte and Winston-Salem.”

Mike Roberts, from Kings Mountain, was the quarterback. He graduated 12 years ago, so he’s around 30.

The Herd relied on a beast of a running back in Kerrion Moore, who was a perennial All-CIAA back for Winston-Salem State. Moore is sixth all-time in Rams’ history in career rushing yards (3,068) and fifth in touchdowns (36).

“Mr. 3000,” Brown said. “He was a big addition.”

Lance Lewis, the talented 6-foot-3 receiver who helped Concord win state titles in football and basketball and was one of the best receivers in East Carolina history (22 TD catches in two seasons) is the biggest name on the Herd roster. He played in a few games for the Washington Redskins and was on the fringes of the NFL for several years. Lewis is 32 now, but still hard to handle.

“He was team MVP,” Brown said.

Locals who were a big part of the push to another title were North Rowan products Brandon Ford and Bobby “Fatty” Lee and former Salisbury High players Anthony Smith and Aaron Holsey.

Marcus House, who in his 40s, played at Livingstone in the late 1990s. He’s the most veteran member of  the Herd, but he was a starting DB.

“He’s not as fast as he once was,” Brown said. “But he makes up for it with savvy and experience.”

Phildel Kirk is the team owner. Brown, a Miami native who lives in Spencer,  Torrie Walker and Daniel Trimnal lead the coaching staff.

The Herd had its roots in the old Rowan Rampage, but the program has been elevated. Strong coaches have attracted strong players, who want to stay involved in the game. Many Herd players are wily veterans in their 30s, 15 years removed from their high school glory days, but still capable athletes.

Walker helped change the culture of the local semi-pro entry.

“Coach Walker was born in Detroit and came to live in Charlotte,” Brown said. “He won championships as a player and a coach with the Charlotte Colts program. He joined us three years ago, with the goal of making a legacy. He wanted to have more than just a  semi-pro team. He wanted to build a great organization.”

The Herd lost four times in 2019, Walker’s first season as co-head coach, and dropped two in 2020. Next came perfection.

So what’s the next goal? What can you do to  top back-to-back national titles? What can you do to top undefeated?

“We have been slighted as far as the national No. 1 ranking, so there are still things to fight for,” Brown said. “And dynasties come in threes. We want to be remembered as the greatest organization in semi-pro football.”