When DaChon Weatherspoon blocked two separate Dorman Cavaliers, clearing the edge for Rock Hill running back Justin Stokes to scamper 21 yards for a touchdown last Friday night, it was a play that encapsulated all thats going right for the Bearcats at the moment.
Weatherspoon, one of a number of sophomores making an early impact at the varsity level, produced a pair of effort plays that dont show up in the official stats. Theres hope in the Rock Hill program in large part due to this years precocious class of 27 10th graders playing varsity.
Then there is Stokes. The fourth quarter score was his third touchdown of the game, to go with 166 yards rushing on 25 carries. A senior, Stokes waited two years for his turn to start and is squeezing the opportunity in front of him now with both mitts.
And there was the fact Stokes third touchdown run of the game pulled the Bearcats to within three of the states No. 9-ranked team, Dorman. That Rock Hill ultimately fell short in trying to erase a 26-7 deficit is important too. Joe Montgomerys team just scored its first moral victory of the season, and its already tired of them.
Last week, it picked up a lot of peoples heads, seeing that Rock Hill could stay in the game with the No. 9 team in the state, Stokes said. It cannot last that long. We have to look forward to next week. We should have won that game. We made a lot of mistakes.
Youth will be on full display when the Bearcats host Conway Friday night at District 3 Stadium. Both teams rely on talented sophomores, but in at least Rock Hills case, its because theyre the best players available.
Were gonna play the one that practices the best, on a consistent basis, Monday through Thursday, said Montgomery, and I dont care what grade theyre in.
Weatherspoon, and Thailand Adams, and Tim Sherer and Donavon Perryman arent your normal-sized sophomores. Weatherspoon, a receiver, checks in at 6-foot-1, 190 pounds. Adams, a 6-foot-1, 200-pound pass-catcher, was a member of Bearcat track and fields 4x100-meter field state qualifying relay last year as a freshman, and is the burner of the group. Sherer is a staunchly-built 5-foot-10, 185-pound backup to Stokes. Starting linebacker Donavon Perryman, who made 11 tackles last week against Dorman, is also 6-foot, 190 pounds.
Its unlikely these kids were shoved in lockers as freshmen.
All we want to do is put Rock Hill back on the map, Perryman said before Wednesdays practice, and make everybody stop talking about South Pointe and Northwestern, and start talking about Rock Hill. Thats a goal we will do anything to get to.
The Bearcats won 101 games, four region championships and two state titles from 2000 to 2009, but are 15-20 the last three seasons.
The sophomore newcomers dont care about any of that though. Rock Hills ninth grade football team went 8-2 last year, finishing second in the region, and the sophomores, along with new offensive coordinator Bubba Pittman who came over from Northwestern, are used to winning.
The young guns give Rock Hills program, and its fans, hope that the Bearcats can return to the upper echelons of Class AAAA football soon. But for seniors like Stokes, receiver Jermaine White and defensive lineman Cam Bell, there isnt time to wait. The talented sophomores strengthen the belief that Rock Hill can win now.
Theyve been winning all the way through middle school and ninth grade, and theyll do the same here, Montgomery said. Its a lot of fun to coach them too, because theyre young and enthusiastic. Those kids really have a lot of fun playing.
As cut and chiseled as the sophomores are, its important to remember that some of them arent even 15 years old yet. Perryman admitted that he cried with joy shortly before his first varsity start.
It was all hitting me at once, he said. I really wasnt nervous though because adrenaline took over.
Boy, did it. Perrymans first solo varsity tackle was a seven-yard sack of Dorman quarterback Grayland Fowler.
At first, it didnt feel like anything, just felt like I made a play. I needed to make sure that even though I was excited, I needed to play the next play, he said. But after that, everything hit and I was like, wow, this is amazing. I actually did that?
There will be times when the young guns make mistakes, when theyre over-awed, or simply over-matched by larger and savvier opponents.
Its hard for sophomores to play, in 4A football, at a consistent level. Thats the difference between them and a senior, that lack of experience, said Montgomery. Thats what you hope theyre able to accomplish, playing just as theyre coached to do.
The inconsistency showed against Dorman. Rock Hill fumbled five times (recovering two), threw an interception, and struggled in the kicking game, which Montgomery said cost his team the win. The Bearcats were also only 5 of 19 on third down, though they did convert 5 of 9 fourth down tries.
Friday the Bearcats will host a similarly fresh-faced Conway Tigers team. Chuck Jordans squad has 14 sophomores, including the leading rusher, Cortez Brown, and receiver, 6-foot-3, 200-pound Division I prospect Bryan Edwards. Like Rock Hills 10th graders, the Tiger youngsters have the physical builds to succeed at the varsity level. But so does everyone else.
Its all mental, man, Stokes said. They have the size; they have the speed and talent to be a varsity player. But mentally they have to be in the game the whole game and they cant let one mistake drop them out of the game.
Montgomery was encouraged by his teams fight-back last week against Dorman, saying he expected it. But his team needed a leader to make a play on that last drive, to complete the turnaround. When, if, the situation arises again Friday versus Conway, Montgomery doesnt care what grade the difference-maker happens to be in, whether its Stokes punching in a TD run, or Weatherspoon carving open a running lane.
That leadership factor is the guy that doesnt want to get beat, and gets in and gets competitive.
Regardless of age, Rock Hill has a bunch more of those cats this season.
Bret McCormick • 329-4032. Twitter: @BretJust1T