South Pointe, Northwestern and Nation Ford will hold their spring football scrimmages Friday night. Three of Region 3-AAAA’s top four teams last year, the trio will be looking to build on successful campaigns that saw Northwestern reach the state final, South Pointe the state semifinals and Nation Ford post a first winning season in school history. Nation Ford’s scrimmage gets underway at 5 p.m.; South Pointe and Northwestern play at 6 p.m.
A wrench was chucked in the Stallions’ spring practice plans when offensive coordinator Justin Hardin took the head coaching job at Providence (N.C.) High School. Stallions head coach Strait Herron divided up offensive coaching duties between quarterbacks coach Robert Hellams, who was in charge of the passing game, and offensive line coach Mike Zapolnik, who was the run game coordinator.
Herron is in the process of interviewing candidates, but altered the program’s spring scrimmage slightly because of Hardin’s departure. Instead of just splitting the squad right down the middle, the Stallions will play first team offense versus first team defense for much of the game, with some special teams play sprinkled in.
South Pointe should be ranked statewide in the fall, but Herron was more excited about his team “showing chemistry” this spring. “They all seem to like each other and I think that makes all the difference compared to last year where we had some internal stuff going on,” he said. “I think this team has the chance to do something special, if they put the work in.”
Starters lost: 6 offense, 6 defense
Leaving in June: The biggest losses for South Pointe are running back C.J. Pendergrass and quarterback Devin Pearson, who combined to run for nearly 2,000 yards and 26 touchdowns last season. Tall, speedy receiver P.J. Heath is also gone come graduation after racking up over 800 receiving yards and nine TDs as a senior. Herron’s team will have to replace several offensive line stalwarts as well, namely Alex Simms, a 2012 Shrine Bowl selection.
Back in August: The Stallions return contributors on defense especially, led by Zeek Rodney. The state’s Class AAAA Defensive Player of the Year in 2012, Rodney will have all eyes on his No. 93 jersey, but should be up to the challenge. Besides, he should have help along the line from players like Tay Robinson-Locke and Matt Newman, who will benefit from the attention their highly-touted teammate receives from offensive lines. Josh Massey, a head-busting linebacker/safety, also returns for his senior year.
Additionally, Herron’s team brings back gangly receiving talent Anthony Johnson, who averaged over 23 yards per catch last season, slot man DeShawn Davis, bruising running back Josh Brice, and quarterback Tay Blake, who filled in admirably for Pearson when he went down midseason with a broken bone in his hand.
The Trojans’ spring game will put an enjoyable cap on spring practice for the Northwestern football players. After Friday night’s game is over, they’ll be greeted by 500 hot dogs for them and their families and will be able to enjoy the ambience of the Trojan football family.
The scrimmage that comes before spring practice’s relaxing conclusion will be typically business-like, though.
“It’ll be another evaluation day just like the rest of spring practice days,” said Northwestern coach Kyle Richardson. “The only difference is it will be inside the stadium and there will be people watching.”
The Trojans host seven games this coming fall, including mouth-watering matchups with Gaffney, Byrnes and Charlotte Catholic. Potentially all three could be nationally ranked when they arrive at District 3 Stadium, but that hasn’t provided any more motivation than usual.
“We haven’t really talked about it,” said Richardson. “At Northwestern we play a tough schedule every year. We know we’re gonna get the opposing team’s best shot every game. Our kids have to prepare for that regardless of who’s on the schedule three or four months from now.”
Starters lost: 4 offense, 5 defense
Leaving in June: The Trojans lose starters all over the field, but not too many. Receiver Rontavious McClure and running back LaThomas Long are two offensive weapons who will graduate, as do offensive line starters Anthony Ruhff and Jasheem Baxter. O’Daryl Davis-Douglas and Jakari Golden leave a void in the defensive secondary, but the Trojans are otherwise in pretty good shape.
Back in August: Two key players return for Northwestern: quarterback Mason Rudolph and slot man Dupree Hart. Rudolph was one of the most prolific quarterbacks in the state last year as a junior, throwing for just shy of 4,000 yards, and 41 touchdowns against just seven interceptions, while completing 103 passes to Hart, a shifty speedster who will be a junior this fall.
Mustafia Love (82 catches, 891 yards) also returns in the passing game, giving Richardson’s offense a big target man to offset Hart’s low-to-the-ground game. In the Trojans’ defensive secondary, Jaquavious Mackey (corner) and Corey Sargent (safety) are back, as are linebackers Russell Hubbs and Gabe Gresham.
Following up its first winning season in program history makes this an important spring for Nation Ford football. Coach Michael Allen has the program rolling in the right direction, but will have to continue that momentum despite the loss of the most successful senior class in the school’s short history.
Leaving in June: No question the Falcons will miss speedy receivers A.K. McCoy and Dijuan Ussery this fall. The duo stretched defenses and turned short gains into lengthy touchdowns last year, while helping Nation Ford to its first winning season in the school’s six-year history. McCoy caught 58 balls for 1,110 yards and 11 touchdowns and was selected to the North-South All-Star game, while Ussery pulled in 52 catches for 934 yards and 10 scores. Add in the impending graduation of running back Daniel Jackson, and Allen’s team has some gaping openings on the offensive side of the pigskin.
The Falcons also will need to replace tough and productive defensive starters like lineman Kenny Settle, Josh Driscoll, defensive back Will Visbeck.
Back in August: Even without his two favorite targets from last year, Dalton Helms is a quarterback to watch in York County. The junior threw for 2,440 yards and 24 touchdowns, and has drawn recruiting interest in football and baseball. Though the wideouts are gone, Helms will be able to call on a pair of tough tight ends, Hank Tuipulotu and Riley Hilton, as reliable targets.
Bret McCormick • 329-4032. Twitter: @BretJust1T