Sandlappers blessed with quarterbacks

bmccormick@heraldonline.comDecember 17, 2013 

  • Later this week

    Northwestern’ Corey Seargent is psyched for Shrine Bowl experience; South Pointe’s Zeek Rodney ready to show his ability after injury-hampered senior season

— A strong Christian, South Carolina Shrine Bowl coach Tommy Brown knows he’s been blessed this week with fine quarterbacks.

Two weeks after clashing in the Class AAAA Division II state title game and a week after finishing in the top-5 for the state’s Mr. Football award, Northwestern’s Mason Rudolph and Stratford’s Jacob Park are finally on the same team, the Palmetto Shrine Bowl squad.

“That was the position that was the easiest one to pick this year,” said Brown, whose day job is coaching Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School.

Rudolph, headed to Oklahoma State next month, and Park, off to Georgia next month also, make for one of the best quarterback pairings that the South Carolina squad has had at the Shrine Bowl.

“We are blessed to have two quarterbacks like that in this state,” said Brown after Tuesday’s morning practice at Spartanburg High School. “And they played against each other in the state championship game, which says it all.”

Rudolph got the better of Park in the title game, throwing eight touchdown passes en route to a 62-35 Northwestern win, but Park evened the tally last week when he was awarded the state’s Mr. Football award. This week the competition has been set aside … to a degree.

“They’re competing this week,” Brown said. “They’re getting along fine and each is competing with the other. We’re just fortunate to have two kids of that caliber.”

It’s interesting to watch the quarterbacks interact with their new teammates. Park is much more outwardly social and emotive, though Rudolph began to grow in comfort throughout Tuesday’s practice.

“We’ve kind of got completely different personalities, we go at things a different way,” Park said afterward. “I’m not the most serious guy out here as you can tell.”

The two quarterbacks’ different styles of leadership both get results from teammates. That’s made easier when the other players are receptive. Rudolph and Park both admitted they were impressed with the attitudes they’ve encountered from the squad. South Carolina’s coach agreed.

“I don’t see a lot of ‘I’s’ out here,” said Brown. “When you get kids of this caliber that’s what you’re afraid of. But I see the kids are talking, communicating on and off the field, congratulating each other, bumping each other up, so I see teamwork already.”

During Tuesday’s morning practice session, Park spent a healthy chunk of his time working with the running backs and the linemen, while Rudolph was grouped with the receivers and defensive backs at times, an apparent partition by strength. North Augusta coach Dan Pippin, the South Carolina team’s offensive coordinator, indicated that was a coincidence.

“I was just telling both of them that was kind of an accident,” he said afterward.

In truth, both players are adept at running and throwing. Pippin Frankensteined an offense together by watching film of North Augusta’s playoff game against Northwestern and seeing what Rudolph did well, and meshing that with things that Park did well on film into an offensive game plan.

“We’re trying to do stuff that they’re both comfortable with,” Pippin said.

“It’s been kind of hectic so far, having to learn a whole new offense in a week,” said Rudolph, his white pants bloodied at the knee from a broken scab. “The terminology is kind of different than what we used at Northwestern but we’re gonna get it done for Saturday.”

Comfort is an elusive luxury during all-star game weeks, and Tuesday saw a number of miscommunications, mistimed throws, blown blocking assignments, and really any other football play that could possibly be goofed. During down time or when Park was taking his reps, Rudolph picked up a football and threw with the nearest receiver he could find. He and Park also took turns working with Goose Creek tight end Kalan Ritchie, a South Carolina commitment, who only caught one pass the entire season due to the Gators’ triple option offense.

Rudolph knows the S.C. squad isn’t the only one with a familiarity deficit this week.

“Everybody’s gonna have kind of the same problems,” he said, lifting his chin toward the North Carolina team practicing a field over. “There’s gonna be some issues with timing and stuff like that, but hopefully we can just put our best foot forward and get the win.”

Sometimes athleticism and visceral sports savvy can offset the lack of timing and chemistry. Ritchie, 6-foot-6 and 230 pounds, looked like he’d been catching passes all season when running routes for Rudolph and Park, and another tight end, Bamberg-Ehrhardt’s K.C. Crosby, also a future Gamecock, made three fantastic grabs down the sideline during one-on-one drills.

Those were just the tight ends. Gaffney’s Shaq Davidson is a player with touchdown potential every time he gets the ball, as is Chapman receiver Tyshun “Deebo” Samuel. Six-foot-5 Woodruff receiver Blake Bone, headed to the University of Kentucky, can bring down any jump ball Rudolph or Park might lob. And the running backs include Goose Creek’s Caleb Kinlaw, a future Wisconsin Badger, and Clemson commit Jae’lon Oglesby from Daniel High School, who was just cleared to practice Tuesday due to injury troubles.

Like his Shrine Bowl coach, Park felt blessed to be surrounded by such athletes, and not just on offense.

“It’s a blast,” he said. “These wide receivers are ridiculous. I thought we had a good offensive line, and we do, but our defensive line shows them up every day in practice. It’s pretty ridiculous.”

Pippin made a solid point when discussing the bevy of talent.

“The only teams that have got more Division I players than we do right now is the University of South Carolina and Clemson,” he said.

The hardest thing will be getting all 40 players enough time on the field Saturday. Brown was asked who might start at quarterback, because even though Park and Rudolph are now on the same team, they’re still competing.

“We really haven’t talked about it,” he said. “We’re in a situation where we may just flip a coin because really it’s that type of situation. We’re just glad we got these two kids and I promise you both of them gonna be on the field Saturday.”

Bret McCormick •  803-329-4032; Twitter: @BretJust1T

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