High school football: Next level for West Rowan’s Neal, Robinson, Noble

Published 12:01 am Thursday, February 3, 2022

By Mike London
mike.london@salisburypost.com

MOUNT ULLA — Signing Day always was a favorite time for West Rowan coaches Scott Young and Joe Nixon, and the tradition continues with Louis Kraft V.

Hundreds of students, teachers and family packed the school media center on Wednesday afternoon to watch three Falcons announce college decisions for three different levels.

It will be an easy day for the honorees to remember — with 2-2-22 circled on their calendars.

“Great to be able to have our kids sign at the school again, and what an amazing turnout we had for it,” Kraft said. “We had a big signing last year (Zeek Biggers with Georgia Tech) and held it at a church.”

Jaedon Neal, an articulate safety with linebacker arms, heads to Division III Averett.

Akin Robinson, a lightning-legged running back who gave West a monster senior season, signed with Limestone in Gaffney, S.C.  The Saints compete in the D-II South Atlantic Conference with Catawba.

The biggest roar of the afternoon came when Josh Noble, a 6-foot-5, 285-pound lineman, put on the ball cap of the D-I Campbell Fighting Camels, who will tackle a 2022 schedule that includes East Carolina.

Noble had a half-dozen or so offers and flew to Kentucky on a recruiting visit to Murray State. Not a lot of high school kids get to experience that sort of thing.

Noble also took an official visit to Wofford. Other schools that pursued Noble included Hampton, North Carolina Central, North Carolina A&T and Lenoir-Rhyne. South Carolina didn’t offer a scholarship, but did offer Noble a guaranteed roster spot as a preferred walk-on.

“The Campbell coaches are grateful that they got Josh, but I think they were a little surprised they got him,” Kraft said.

Campbell is in Buies Creek, a small town in eastern North Carolina, but it’s only about 30 miles from Raleigh. The proximity to the Raleigh-Durham area was a factor in Noble’s decision, but mostly it came down to the good feeling he got when he arrived there.

“I was unsure about Campbell when I visited, but from the moment I got on campus, it felt like home and felt like the right place for me,” Noble said. “All the players I spoke to talked about the team being a brotherhood, a family, and that’s exactly what I was looking for.”

Long and strong and agile enough to be a factor for West Rowan’s basketball team, Noble is a younger brother of defensive back Domonique Noble, one of the stars of West’s state-title glory days and a Georgia Tech signee and graduate.

“Josh is blessed with size, length and ability, but he’s also worked extremely hard for everything he’s gotten,” Kraft said.

One of the things he earned was the Offensive Lineman of the Year award for the South Piedmont Conference. He also was a teammate of Salisbury star Jalon Walker in the Carolina Bowl, the COVID replacement for the canceled Shrine Bowl.

Noble was a two-way standout for the Falcons and was almost as important on the defensive line as he was as the anchor of the offensive line.

“As a senior, I was needed to be a leader on both sides of the ball,” Noble said. “I gave it everything I had.”

Noble is confident that he’ll be able to play early on the offensive line at Campbell, probably right tackle or right guard. He could be on the field as a true freshman,

Like most of his teammates, Noble cites the overtime playoff win at North Lincoln as the most memorable night of the season for the 7-4 Falcons.

“We were tired, but we all fought for every inch all night,” Noble said. “When Noah (Loeblein) scored the winning touchdown in overtime, I pushed him in.”

Noble declared that he would compete in another sport this spring, following the basketball season. He hasn’t decided yet if it will be baseball, golf or track and field.

•••

It was a perfect match. Robinson was looking for a school and Limestone was looking for a running back and fell in love with his film.

There was a lot to like. Robinson was a home-run hitter, a big play waiting to happen for the Falcons as a senior, averaging nearly 10 yards per carry.

He piled up 1,233 rushing yards in 11 games, topping 100 yards eight times, with a high of 207 against Central Cabarrus.

He managed to produce five two-touchdown games and scored 13 TDs, quite a feat for a team that threw often and had a running back committee.

Robinson dominated at the jayvee level as a sophomore with more than 20 touchdowns.

“When he got it, it was game over, end of story,” Kraft said with a laugh. “He was a big fish in a small pond on the jayvees, but I think that season gave him a lot of confidence.”

There were adjustments for Robinson to make as a varsity junior and opponents got bigger and swifter.  He put up decent, but unspectacular numbers that season — 430 rushing yards on 86 carries.

“I kept working at it and I did a lot of training with (former West superstar) K.P. Parks,” Robinson said. “I always was fast, but I worked extra hard, added some strength and I started seeing the field a lot better. As a senior, I did everything I could to help us win, and I had coaches and teammates who believed in me. I made mistakes, but I was usually able to make a play and fix it.”

Robinson weighs 170, but it’s wound pretty tight on his 5-foot-7 frame. A long touchdown run in the playoffs against North Lincoln is his favorite Falcon memory.

Kraft likes to tell the story of Robinson’s first West workout as a freshman. The kid threw up and didn’t finish it.

“But he was a worker, and it was awesome to see the progression Akin made from where he started to where he finished with our program,” Kraft said. “As a senior, when we needed him to be that guy, he was that guy.”

Robinson will be joining a Limestone program that former West linebacker Logan Stoodley helped get started.

•••

Neal was one of the heroes of a 2017 West Rowan Middle championship season, but then he paid two seasons of dues on the jayvees.

Kraft said the Falcons thought at one time that he might be just a depth guy and never a varsity starter, but Neal came on strong the last two seasons.

“He grew up a lot during the COVID year,” Kraft said. “He transformed from being a guy we really weren’t counting on to being a guy we depended on. He got bigger and stronger, and he always was one of our smartest guys.”

Neal became the athlete who made the defensive calls and checks and got the Falcons aligned properly.

“I worked my way up in the program, and as I did I worked on getting louder and being more vocal,” Neal said.

Neal is a fine student, which is critical for Division III recruits. D-III schools can’t give athletic scholarships, but they can offer academic packages. Neal got a great offer.

Averett, in Danville, Va., is not too far and not too close, and the Cougars have had quite a bit of success over the years recruiting Rowan athletes.

JaVon Lofton, a former West player, just wrapped up quite a career as a defensive lineman for Averett. That had some impact on Neal’s decision.

“It’s peaceful up there at Averett and I liked that,” Neal said. “But there are also a lot of things right near the school that are easy to get to.”

Neal’s favorite West memory came as a blocker on the kickoff return team in the North Lincoln game.

“Blocked a guy, hit him hard and almost blacked out,” Neal said. “When I got to the sideline, everyone was excited. I didn’t realize it, but I knocked the dude’s helmet off.”

So three Falcons move on to the next level, ready to score more touchdowns and to knock more helmets off.

Kraft believes there will be more signers in the weeks ahead.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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