When nagging injuries overtook Rock Hill football duo Brandon Croutch and Deshaun McFadden around Week Five of the high school season, the Bearcats’ season subsequently began to nosedive.
Croutch missed the Bearcats’ sixth game against York and was slowed during the subsequent games against Gaffney and Clover by an injured hip. McFadden was limited during the same stretch of games, missing the Clover loss after tweaking his hamstring on an interception returned for a touchdown against Gaffney. Rock Hill averaged 31 points per game in its first five games, but scored 13, 14 and 14 points in the three games where McFadden and Croutch were banged up – all losses.
“Aw man, they were incredibly important. They kind of drove our offense,” said Rock Hill coach Bubba Pittman. “The ball went through those two guys a bunch.”
It will probably only go through one of them Saturday during the Touchstone Energy Cooperatives Bowl – the North-South all-star game – in Myrtle Beach. After practicing all week as a running back, Croutch should see plenty of the ball. But McFadden will be playing defense, specifically cornerback.
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“I think he’s got enough foot speed and loose enough hips to be a lockdown-type corner,” said North squad coach Darryl Page, Lower Richland’s head football coach.
McFadden was the Bearcats’ leading receiver with 53 catches for 720 yards and a team-high 11 touchdowns. He also made 26 tackles, recovered a fumble and returned an interception for a touchdown against Gaffney in limited playing time on defense. McFadden has confronted Lancaster’s Jay Hood (6-foot-2, 200 pounds), Greenville’s Jalen Wilkes (6-foot-2, 180) and Westwood’s Adonus Lee (6-foot-4, 185) this week during practice.
“People are gonna try to pick on his size and match him up against bigger wide receivers,” said Page. “I think this week he’s shown me he can hold his own out there. He’s had some big receivers out there and he’s done a good job in practice on coverages.”
Pittman said a number of schools that visited Rock Hill this week inquired about McFadden, including Newberry, which made a scholarship offer, and Tusculum. There are bigger schools interested as well, including Presbyterian, Pittman’s alma mater. McFadden could end up a slot receiver, but likely projects as a college defensive back.
“We saw the Gaffney film,” said Page. “He got a strong recommendation from our defensive coordinator, (York coach) Bobby Carroll.”
Both McFadden and Croutch have the opportunity to raise their stock this week. North-South rules dictate that teams almost always line up in one-back offensive sets unless it’s a fourth and short, or goal-line, situation. That’s good for Croutch, who played as a lone back all season in Rock Hill’s spread offense.
“And he’ll do the same thing Saturday,” said Page. “He’s a matchup nightmare, especially when you get him in space and he can make people miss. He’s got a nose for that end zone, so I’m real impressed with him.”
Croutch was the team’s leading rusher with 636 yards and eight touchdowns on 112 carries. He was also a staple of the Bearcats’ short passing game, making 41 catches for 480 yards and three more scores. At 5-foot-7, 155 pounds, Croutch doesn’t run over too many defenders, but he’s got no problem running by or around them.
“He never takes a full blow because he can run close to the ground, has that low center of gravity,” Page said. “He’s explosive when he gets the ball.”
Croutch still has work to do in the classroom but is getting recruiting interest as well. Georgia Military College and Newberry are among the schools interested. A good showing Saturday would be hugely beneficial for Croutch and his Bearcat teammate, McFadden.
“It’s a good opportunity for them to get out there and showcase their talents against some of the best players that we have out there,” said Pittman. “Hopefully one more chance for them to get noticed.”
It’s also an opportunity for Croutch and McFadden to comb over an injury-stunted, less-than-desirable senior season, one that many of their teammates won’t get.
“Any time you line up you want to win, regardless of the situation. And I’m a member of that club too,” said Page, whose Lower Richland team finished 1-9 this season. “Things didn’t go as well as you planned or hope, but the main thing is you get another chance to compete.”