High school football

Rodney’s motor won’t stop driving Stallions’ defense

Lineman’s stingy defensive play draws comparison to former greats

bmccormick@heraldonline.comSeptember 24, 2012 

— The ball is snapped and Zeek Rodney is all motion, like rushing water through a burst pipe. His hands swat and slap offensive linemen, or if that doesn’t work, he just drops his shoulder and blasts by them.

Then, it’s quiet for a moment … before a grunt and a thud. Another tackle in an opponent’s backfield.

When a sophomore makes 94 tackles, 17 for a loss, people notice, and a lot of people have noticed Rodney, a 6-foot-2, 255-pound junior defensive lineman at South Pointe. Rodney headlines a miserly Stallions defense that’s allowing opponents less than one yard per carry through five games and only 8.6 points per contest.

“He’s a tremendous athlete, has great explosion coming off the ball,” said South Pointe coach Strait Herron. “And that makes offenses have to worry about him more so than others. It might create some one-on-one blocks elsewhere that I think helps our whole defense be able to make plays.”

Last week’s 35-14 win over Fort Mill was undefeated South Pointe’s 15th in a row, dating back to last season, and if it gets the 16th this Friday night in a tough matchup with local rival Northwestern, it’s likely that down there in the trenches, Rodney made a mess of things.

“He changes a ballgame,” said Fort Mill coach Ed Susi, whose Yellow Jackets are the only team to top 100 yards rushing against the defending AAA state champs this year. “He makes you double-team him all the time and sometimes that doesn’t even work. The kid’s got a motor and it’s always going.”

The Rodney motor hasn’t stopped yet this season. Through the first five games, he already has 70 tackles (average of 14 per contest), 12 sacks, 14 tackles-for-loss and 18 quarterback pressures. Those statistics inflicted a combined loss of 170 yards on opposing offenses.

Rodney is a nightmare for opposing coaches to solve. He can line up at defensive end in a four-man front, but is best at nose tackle, where he can bull-rush the opposing backfield. The junior’s combination of quickness and strength remind many of former South Pointe defensive standout Jadeveon Clowney. But where Clowney was unusually agile and long-limbed, Rodney’s internal motor is his defining characteristic.

“He has great feet, he’s very athletic, obviously plays well with his hands,” said Spartanburg coach Freddie Brown. “But here’s the most major piece of his arsenal: the motor. He goes hard every play.”

The ceaseless drive and evident physical blessings are garnering Rodney college attention. He received early interest from South Carolina and Clemson, with the Gamecocks seemingly interested in signing another South Pointe defensive lineman. Rodney attended South Carolina’s win over Alabama-Birmingham on Sept. 15 and was invited to South Carolina’s Junior Day in February, in addition to several unofficial visits he took to Columbia last year. On Monday, Herron dropped a note from LSU in Rodney’s locker, while a whole slew of other colleges are also in contact.

“He’s a confident kid, he knows he could be good,” said Herron, who besides mentoring Rodney, often acts as his mailman too. “We try to make sure he’s headed in the right direction.”

Rodney has provided plenty of eyebrow-raising film already this season. In South Pointe’s 34-16 win over Blythewood on Aug. 25, he had 22 tackles and five sacks. Yes, five sacks.

Two weeks later, Rodney scored a pair of touchdowns in the Stallions’ 33-3 win over Spartanburg, the first coming on a four-yard fumble recovery return and the second on a fake punt that he took 31 yards for another six points.

Opposing coaches have tried to scheme around Rodney, but that ploy has thus far failed. Miserably.

“Like when Clowney was there,” Susi explained, “you draw things up on paper that look good and everything … but he redirects well and can read the flow of the game. He puts pressure on you right away just like Clowney did.”

Herron shies away from the Clowney comparisons, because they’re different players, and because, “I don’t think we’ll ever see another Clowney. Zeek does have some tendencies of his, like being explosive off the ball and being agile when he runs.”

Clowney, who Rodney affectionately calls “Doodoo,” and Gerald Dixon, who played at South Pointe and also now suits up for South Carolina, draws him the most comparisons. After a sophomore season that made folks take notice, Rodney knows he could join the increasingly elite club of South Pointe defensive linemen that have moved on to the college ranks.

“Knowing I could do that as a sophomore made me want to work hard in the weight room, get stronger so I could do even better this year,” Rodney said Monday before practice.

The extra work has paid off, but it’s not all brute strength with Rodney. Herron praised his football acumen, and the fake punt against Spartanburg is strong supporting evidence.

“Before I came on the field I asked coach Herron if I could call the fake and he said yes, if I saw it,” Rodney said. “I saw they had a big guy on the end and I thought if I called it I could outrun him. When I got it I just took off.”

It was just one more Rodney wrinkle causing another headache for opposing coaches. The only relief for coaches Susi and Brown? Their teams don’t have to face him again.

“I thought he was a man out there playing with boys,” said Brown. “He completely dominated the game.”

Bret McCormick 329-4032

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