Three of South Pointe’s starting linebackers sat around a conference table at the school on Wednesday, not saying a whole lot as a reporter lobbed questions at them.
“They let their play do the talking, right?” said a college coach, who was leaving Stallions coach Strait Herron’s office after a recruiting visit.
Belton-Honea Path’s offense resembles a wing offense in how often the Bears’ guards pull. South Pointe linebackers may end up reading the guards’ movement instead of the running backs, like they normally do.
Seniors Bryson Cooper, Deedric Cousar and Cort Neely - the trio at the table - and junior B.J. Davis make up arguably the best group of linebackers in South Carolina 4A football. Maybe all classifications. Their journeys to prominence in the South Pointe defense vary, but all have arrived at the right moment for the No. 1 Stallions and gelled into a destructive group.
The quartet will be called on regularly Friday night in the third round of the playoffs at Belton-Honea Path. The Bears’ run-first offense lines up two running backs on most downs.
“We play so many spread teams, so when you get a team that’s gonna line up and just pound it at you, your guys aren’t used to it,” said Herron. “But those kinds of games, I think our defense has done a great job of stepping up.”
Cooper, a Shrine Bowl selection, leads the group with 169 tackles, but Neely (162) and Cousar (146) are right behind. Davis doesn’t tackle as much but consistently makes big plays; four interceptions, two fumble recoveries and two defensive touchdowns attest.
“We’re blessed with DB-type kids,” said defensive coordinator Jason Winstead. “Linebackers are harder to find, so kids that want to tackle and can tackle, we’ll put them up there.”
158-29 South Pointe has jumped on its last four opponents, out-scoring them 158-29 in the first halves of those four victories.
The group’s success is built on - shocker! - speed. Cooper and Cousar are the heavy hitters in the middle - 22 tackles-for-loss combined - that get to the ball quickly. Neely looks and moves like a free safety, while Davis could have played on offense and been one of the team’s best receivers. Neely made the North-South all-star game and is starting to get college interest, and Cooper has an offer from Mercer, with more likely on the way.
Davis is probably the best prospect of the bunch. At 6-foot-4, 200 pounds, he has the raw frame college coaches drool over, and he moves like a deer, evinced by 10 pass break-ups. He’s relatively unknown on the recruiting circuit because he’s played basketball in the summer instead of going to football camps, but could end up as a high-major FBS recruit.
Winstead knew what he had in Cooper, a key contributor in each of the last two state titles and the unofficial leader of the position group. But Cousar and Neely’s emergence - after playing sparingly last season - has been a positive surprise for South Pointe coaches.
“Both of them worked extremely hard in the weight room,” said Winstead. “They’re really muscled. They’re good looking kids.”
“You can’t get two words out of him,” Herron said about Cousar. “Playing outside in space wasn’t his best. When coach (Winstead) moved him inside, it kind of clicked. He’s done a great job.”
I already knew they could play.
South Pointe’s Bryson Cooper wasn’t surprised by the emergence of fellow linebacker Deedric Cousar and Cort Neely.
Talking to Cousar, there was the faintest hint of tension in his comments. There is no question the senior is motivated to help the Stallions win a title that has a more personal connection for him than the last two.
“Last year we won a ring, but if you look at how much I played, I wasn’t too much a part of that,” he said. “This will feel like more of I earned it.”
“He’s honest,” said Winstead, chuckling.
“He got his shot and we ain’t taken him out yet.”