South Pointe’s first defensive snap of the 2012 season set an oft-repeated precedent. Facing Irmo, defensive linemen Zeek Rodney and Matt Newman were positioned next to each other on the right side of the Stallions’ 4-3 front.
“We both beat our guys off the ball and got the quarterback,” Newman recalls. “It was, like, less than three seconds and we were back there.”
It was a common refrain for both pass rushing terrors last season. Rodney had one of the best statistical seasons defensively in South Pointe’s short history, racking up 27 sacks and 26 tackles-for-loss en route to earning the state’s Defensive Player of the Year honors from High School Sports Report. Newman, all 5-foot-7, 190 pounds of him, chipped in with 10 sacks and 19 quarterback pressures, while a host of other linemen contributed to the Stallions’ success in the defensive trenches.
With five seniors - Rodney and Newman included - and a junior returning from last season, Strait Herron’s defensive line expects to be even better in 2013. Rodney is a huge reason why.
The 6-foot-1, 260-pounder cost opposing offenses 338 yards last year, the result of extensive time spent in opposing backfields. Colleges have noticed too. Rodney currently holds offers from Boston College, Marshall, Toledo, Appalachian State, Charlotte, Louisiana-Lafayette and South Carolina State. His recruitment is ongoing with letters of interest mailed in from all over the country (UCLA, Indiana, Clemson, South Carolina).
All that production garners attention, leaving Newman, Jontae Henry, Tay Robinson-Locke, Nick Adams, Brandon Fisher and others to salivate at the thought of needing to beat just one blocker.
Herron said in July that his defensive line knows “that Zeek brings another dimension and gives them an opportunity to make plays.”
“If I get a double-team we get a lot of one-on-ones, and I think anybody on our d-line can take anybody one-on-one,” Rodney said Friday after a three-hour morning practice.
It’s easy to tell when opposing blockers are cheating toward the Stallions’ marquee man.
“They’ll start leaning, they’ll lean towards him a little bit,” Robinson-Locke said.
Against Fort Mill last season, Rodney drew two blockers in the middle of the line. He drove the pair back and when the quarterback fled toward the sideline, Robinson-Locke had already beaten his man and was waiting to make the sack.
Rodney can line up anywhere on the defensive line, a versatility not uncommon among the Stallions. After switching from outside linebacker to defensive end last year, Henry looks set for a breakout senior season, while Adams and Fisher provide girth in the middle of the line. Robinson-Locke is a hybrid, able to play inside or out, and Newman primarily operates on the edge. Asked if he was ever underestimated because of his size, Newman said with a grin, “every single game; every single down. It helps me because I just use my speed and my technique to get in the backfield, which I usually do.”
Besides the defensive line depth, South Pointe also returns senior linebacker Josh Massey. He racked up 138 tackles last year, including 12 for loss, showing his speed and ability to knife into opposing backfields, especially when the offensive line is busy with the Stallions’ defensive front. Massey has offers from a slew of FCS schools (Furman, Wofford, Youngstown State, The Citadel included) and interest from a number of BCS programs. Ball State, Vanderbilt and Kentucky are among those.
The onus is on the Stallions’ defensive front to spread havoc this season, especially given the inexperience in their secondary. Seasoned campaigners like Buddy Byers, Serhenry Miller and Cody Blake graduated, leaving starting positions vacant.
“We’ve got a lot of juniors this year in the secondary,” Rodney said. “We’re trying to help them out as much as we can, so they won’t feel like they have as much pressure on them, like they have to make a play.”
“We’ve just got to get pressure and move the pocket,” said Adams. “If we can get them outside the pocket and chase them, I think somebody can make a play.”
It might be Rodney, or it might be any of a number of other Stallion defensive linemen. Either way, the odds of being right are in Adams’ favor. As Robinson-Locke said, “You can’t block all of us at one time.”
Bret McCormick • 329-4032. Twitter: @BretJust1T