High school football: Optimistic South has lots of returners

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 17, 2023

By Mike London

LANDIS — South Rowan senior Jamie Klassette is a neat story.

As a junior quarterback hopeful, Klassette lost the battle for that marquee job to Brooks Overcash, but Klassette didn’t quit, didn’t pout, didn’t complain and didn’t look for the nearest transfer portal.

He understood he was still one of South’s best 22, so he was going to play somewhere, even if he wasn’t taking the snaps. As the 2022 season progressed, head coach Chris Walsh found work for Klassette at defensive end, linebacker and tight end.

“He’s a good player and we needed him on the field,” Walsh said. “We just needed to find the right position for him, and we believe we’ve found it.”

Klassette had normally spent off-seasons honing his quarterback skills, but with his QB days in the rearview mirror, he attacked the weight room hard in preparation for his senior season. He has bulked up to 230 pounds and the plan is for him to be South’s starting center, snapping the ball to Overcash.

Well, he’ll still get to touch the ball on every snap.

Klassette is good enough at center that he got an offer from N.C. Wesleyan at a summer camp. He probably wasn’t going to get offers as a 6-foot quarterback, but sometimes things really do work out for the best.

Overcash you probably already know about because after suffering through the expected growing pains of being a sophomore varsity QB, he was showing major promise by the end of the 2022 season. He broke South’s single-game record for passing yards in South’s ninth game. That record lasted one week. He broke his own record in the season finale.

Overcash finished with 90 completions for 1,046 yards and 11 touchdowns, with almost 600 of those yards coming in the final two weeks.

So a legitimate aerial show could be in the works at Donnell Stadium in 2023.

“Brooks has gotten bigger, stronger and his confidence has grown a lot because of the way he finished his sophomore year,” Walsh said. “He missed his whole freshman season with an injury, so he was understandably nervous when last season started. But he’s put a lot of work in, and he’s become one of our team leaders. He could have an exciting junior season.”

The backup QB will be Klassette. South wants future QB Landon Deal to be able to spend this season guiding the jayvees.

Most of South’s varsity players are juniors. South has been optimistic about the Class of 2025, which has both numbers and talent, since it arrived on campus.

Some of those 2025s were needed on varsity as freshmen and many more were on the varsity as sophomores.

Not surprisingly, they’ve taken their lumps — 1-9 seasons back-to-back — but this the year South should start catching up with some opponents. Whether or not that translates into wins remains to be seen, but, at the very least, South will be more competitive in the 3A South Piedmont Conference.

Overcash has excellent guys to throw the ball to. Receivers Dalton Young, Marshal Faw, Jadon Moore and Jason Brown are some of the school’s better athletes.

Young had 22 catches for 233 yards and three TDs in 2022 and had a long TD catch in South’s scrimmage with North Rowan.

“There are fast kids in that group,” Walsh said. “There aren’t many athletes in the area who can kick off and punt and also run back kickoff and punts, but that’s Jadon Moore. He’s run some very special times in the 40.”

Still, South’s leading receiver may not any of those slots and wideouts. It could be tight end Alex Furr, who may be the Raiders’ best college prospect at 6-foot-5, 225 pounds. Furr had 16 catches last season and will provide a towering target for Overcash.

“Alex has bulked up with 30 more pounds,” Walsh said. “He was a good tight end for us last season, but now he really looks the part of a tight end. He’ll be a key part of our offense.”

South also has a good option at running back, so the Raiders won’t be one-dimensional. Senior Landon Richards has been in a backfield time share for years, but now it’s his show. He had 433 rushing yards in 2022 and could double that total this season as he gets the lion’s share of the carries.

“He’s not that big, but he’s smart and strong and a weight-room warrior,” Walsh said. “He’s gotten faster since last year, and he’s good as a blocker on pass plays and at catching the ball out of the backfield.”

The majority of the offensive line will be small by today’s standards, with lots of 5-foot-11, 225-pound types joining Klassette. Ryan Walden, Andrew Sink, Bryan Velasquez are some of the names to know.

Tackle Boston Heller (6-2, 240) does have some good size and Walsh is hopeful Semaj Lipscomb, an A.L. Brown transfer, can become an anchor at left tackle. He checks in at 6-foot-3, 310 pounds.

“A giant kid and a super nice kid, but still a little raw,” Walsh said. “He’s working every day.”

Sawyer Sifford, a sophomore lineman who was impressive as a varsity freshman, is sidelined by a spring injury.

South’s defense will be anchored by junior Conner Richards, the middle linebacker. Richards wears an old-school neck roll, one of those “Cowboy Collars” that were popular for hard-hitting linebackers and fullbacks of earlier generations.

“He’s a guy who doesn’t mind contact and he’ll probably lead us in tackles,” Walsh said. “When we have intra-squad scrimmages, he and his brother (Landon, the running back) spend a lot of time seeking each other out.”

Walsh described South’s defensive linemen as undersized, but tough. That group includes defensive ends Brian Jones and Ashton Frampton and interior lineman Gage Overcash.

Jake Good (6-2, 378) is not undersized, even by NFL standards. He’s coming along and is developing stamina.

“A kid that size can be hard to move and hard to block,” Walsh said.

Senior Joaquin Bernal will be a three-year starter. He’s 160 pounds, but he’ll hit people. He’ll be a hard-nosed outside linebacker.

Besides Conner Richards and Bernal, South is counting on linebackers Javarus Jackson and Bryson Frieze.

Frieze is a junior who is heavily involved in the racing world.

“He’s fearless,” Walsh said.

The defensive backs include safeties Moore, Faw, Zion Jackson and Ty Jones and corners Young, Brown, Macon Fuller and Tristan Littlejohn.

Several of South’s DBs and receivers will play both ways, but they also should be able to rest some. South has depth at those positions and more speed than it’s had in some years.

South also has a host of junior backups who will be used primarily on special teams. That’s Walsh’s plan.

“There are some good football players in that group, and they come to practice every day and get after it every day, but they’ve got some quality players ahead of them,” Walsh explained. “Special teams is their best opportunity to get on the field right away. They get experience, they get to show what they can do, and our starters get a break. There are a lot of positives.”

South hasn’t won more than three games in a football season since the Raiders went 9-3 in 2009, so every positive matters for the program.

Getting A.L. Brown back on the schedule is a positive, win or lose. There’s a ton of history and tradition in that matchup of neighbors.

South also has newcomers on the non-conference schedule such as Union Academy and South Stanly, presumably winnable games, replacing Salisbury and North Rowan, programs that South won’t beat very often.

Talented Robinson has joined the SPC to provide another difficult challenge for South in conference play.

The Raiders are optimistic going into the season, and they have some reasons to be. The losses of the last 14 seasons are not a heavy burden for the current Raiders. They’re 0-0, and they’re looking ahead. They’re not worried about what’s happened in the past.

“W want be the biggest or the fastest,” Walsh said. “But we’ve got a lot of smart, tough kids who want to compete.”