High school football: Raiders excited about return to 3A

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Third in a series of reports on local high schools …


Coach: Chris Walsh (1st year)

2020 record: 2-5 (2-4 Central Carolina Conference, tied for 7th)

New conference (2021-25): 3A South Piedmont Conference, with West Rowan, East Rowan, Carson, Concord, NW Cabarrus, Central Cabarrus (Lake Norman Charter doesn’t play football)

2020 ranking in state: 289th out of 405

2020 ranking in 2A: 76th out of 112

Playoffs: Did not make playoffs


By Mike London

LANDIS — The numbers are good at South Rowan, the enthusiasm is high, the optimism is rampant.

Obviously, everyone in the state is still undefeated and fired up at this time of year, but Chris Walsh, the new head coach of the Raiders, would make the average cheerleader look lethargic.

Off the field, Walsh, who has experience as an assistant coach with rebuilding programs, is excited about closing the deal on a new home.

On the field, he’s excited by a strong turnout.

“We’re doing awesome, just having a blast, and in this summer heat, that’s saying something,” Walsh said. “We went to work right away since I got here in May, and we’ve had a total buy-in. The numbers are great, 90 kids, and we hope to add a few more. Anything we’ve asked for, the administration has provided. The community, the parents, everyone has been fantastic.”

South has talented freshmen, but freshmen are freshmen.

It’s possible Walsh’s gusto can be maintained when October rolls around, but only time will tell. South could have a few wins in the books by then — or not.  At some point, pure enthusiasm gets replaced by blocking and tackling.

South hasn’t won in football in a long time. Not to dwell on numbers that have been well documented since Daniel Yow stepped down and Walsh was hired, but the last winning season for the Raiders was in 2009. The last playoff victory was in 2003. That’s the birth year for some of South’s current seniors.

In other words, it’s been a generation of struggle for South football, which enjoyed its fair share of glory days under coaches Reid Bradshaw and Larry Deal.

South moves back up to 3A this fall. That’s not an awful thing. It’s where South wants to be and needs to be.

3A means a super football schedule, with the Raiders able to take on all five county opponents. It also means membership in a compact Rowan-Cabarrus league. The only outlier in South’s new eight-team conference is Lake Norman Charter, which doesn’t compete in football. The longest trip South’s varsity or jayvee teams will have to make for a road football conference game is the 19-mile hike to Central Cabarrus.

In South’s previous league, Ledford was 43 miles away. Oak Grove was 42 miles. Thomasville was 41, East Davidson was 38 and North Davidson 36. It adds up.

Economically, as far as the gate and the gas tanks, being back in 3A, is a win. Now can the Raiders win some on the field?

South played two county opponents in the brief COVID season and was outscored 103-3. Yes, one of those two was Salisbury, but that’s still alarming.

South won conference games last season against East Davidson and West Davidson, but it’s probable that everyone in the new edition of the South Piedmont Conference will be better than those teams were.

Should South be able to compete most years with schools such as Carson and, East Rowan? The answer to that is yes. But there’s a wide gap to try to narrow.

South’s decent offense last year, well, 90% of it, was QB Nathan Chrismon, who scrambled and threw, and Jackson Deal, who carried the ground game when he wasn’t catching passes. Deal graduated, while Chrismon, a recent East Carolina baseball commit, will be focusing on that sport this fall.

So South is going to look a lot different offensively. The quarterback candidates are junior Bronson Hunt and seniors Karlil Feamster and Audric Coe.

“It’s been a good battle — there’s a ton of athleticism with those three,” Walsh said. “Starting quarterback is a decision we won’t make until Aug. 19.”

South opens on Aug. 20. The two guys that don’t get the QB job will probably show up somewhere else on the field.

The leading running backs come from opposite ends of the size spectrum. Senior Widsom Simms is a huge power guy (6-foot-3, 280 pounds), who put the ball in the end zone twice in the win against West Davidson. Sophomore Landon Richards (5-7, 164) is tough and fast. He had 13 carries for 48 yards in the season finale against Salisbury.

Receivers will include tight end/H-back types Jacob Ritchie and Colton Fisher and wideouts JD James, Noah King and Kaleb Ford. If he’s not the QB, Hunt could be the go-to receiver. He  had 13 catches in the spring COVID season, including two TDs. Gabriel Pozyck, a standout DB, also could help out the pass-catchers.

The starting offensive line is expected to be, from left to right, Aquiles Bernal, Jacob Fuentes, Karter Kinley, Seth Boone and Weston Carpenter. Bernal, a 6-2, 235-pound left tackle, was a standout last season. Fuentes, the left guard is a 300-pounder.

“We’ve got good size and we’ve got strong kids,” Walsh said. “The lifeblood of this team is going to be the offensive line. That’s how we’ll live and breathe.”

Alex Fike returns as the kicker, while Ritchie leads the punting candidates.

South allowed 172 points in its last three games in the spring — that’s 57.3 points per game. That was against three tough teams, but it’s clear the defense has to get better for South to have a fighting chance. Kerry Graves, former Sun Valley defensive coordinator, will be a key member of an eight-man South staff.

“I’ve been more of an offensive guy, so it’s great to have Coach Graves with us,” Walsh said. “We’ve got a good mixture of older guys and younger guys.”

The only returning staffer is Ron Riddle, who will mentor the defensive line.

Up front on defense, the Raiders are counting on John Moore, Kaleb Woolf, Max Bradshaw, Jeshua Benitez and Boone (6-1, 260), who will be playing both ways.

Kameron Wallace was an all-conference player in 2019 as a sophomore, but missed all of the COVID season after an ACL injury. He’s back healthy and he tackles people. He should provide a tremendous boost to the linebacking corps. Bernal, Ritchie, Josh Storie and Jacob Trimnal will be key members of that group.

Pozyck, a 6-foot-3, 190-pound safety, is expected to anchor the defensive backfield.

“He’s going to be tremendous,” Walsh said. “When we clocked our guys in the 40, he ran a time that made us think our stopwatches might be broken, so he ran it again. He’s that fast.”

Other DBs to watch are Ford, Hunt (if he’s not the QB), Javarus Jackson and Sikari Rucker. Some freshmen may be ready to help in the secondary.

The theme that Walsh has been preaching is that everything is new. It’s a fresh start for the Raiders in everything from a remodeled field house to a changed logo.

“Overall, we’ve got more speed and athletes than I expected,” Walsh said. “We’re excited.”

South will take on Central Davidson at 5 p.m. in the Rowan County Jamboree at Salisbury High on Friday.