The connective sinew in South Pointe’s four state championship game appearances has been freshmen.
By calling up, and in some cases playing, ninth-graders, South Pointe has been able to prolong its quickly-developed expectation of success from class to class. This season is no exception. When South Pointe plays Hartsville Saturday at 3 p.m. in the 3A state title game, several freshmen will be along for the ride, with several more seeing playing time whether the game ends up a blowout, or not.
“You can’t beat experience, you can’t coach experience. It’s got to be something that happens,” said South Pointe coach Strait Herron. “As a young player, being able to go through the things we do and the pregame stuff that we do, and being able to practice all that stuff is obviously beneficial. Once they get up there and they’re juniors and seniors, they become leaders and they can just take that thing and keep rolling.”
A number of Stallion seniors were called up for the school’s state championship run in 2011. Brandon Fisher, Deshawn Davis, DeMon Davis and Devion Williams all played ninth-grade football that year, before being called up late in the season. Fisher reckons he got into the game in the last 50 seconds.
“We just got a lot of experience from it,” said the non-talkative senior defensive end, who has been a driving force for the Stallions’ defense this season with 103 tackles, including a team-high 19 for a loss.
The stats show Williams, who played quarterback at the time and is now a starting cornerback, ran the ball once for 10 yards. Another freshman, Bree Minor, ran the ball once for no gain. Davis, a leading linebacker on this year’s squad, made two tackles. They may have done more, but it didn’t appear in the team’s statistics posted on MaxPreps.
“Once we get to the playoffs, we bring those guys with us so they can learn how we do things, plus it’s extra time to coach them up and teach them how to play the basics and fundamentals of football,” said Herron. “Any extra time helps.”
South Pointe’s ninth-grade team, which has lost just six games in 10 seasons, has proved a fruitful spawning ground for future Stallions. But some haven’t required a season of bedding-in to high school football. Herron has high hopes for freshman Derion Kendrick, who made the leap up to varsity football earlier this season, not just to soak it all in, but to contribute as well.
Kendrick, who just turned 14, came up with an interception last week in the red zone with A.C. Flora driving to score in the first half. He’s got 13 tackles in four games and two interceptions, and also ran in a 26-yard touchdown during the first-round blowout of Blue Ridge.
“He’s a great player and he’s stepped up a lot,” said Deshawn Davis. “He’s like a brother. He’s with us every day at lunch.”
“I think D.K. is getting some very valuable experience right now, and Eli Adams also,” said Herron, citing the 6-foot, 215-pound freshman defensive lineman who is slated to be a big contributor in the coming years.
Herron brought four players to Monday’s football state championship press conference in Columbia, but it was tough to get Deshawn Davis, Williams and Fisher to talk much about their experience as ninth-graders on the 2011 state title team. Devin Pearson quarterbacked South Pointe that season as a junior and remembers the trio being just as quiet as they are now.
“Outside of football, they’re some of the most talkative people I know,” said Pearson, chiefly referring to DeMon Davis. “But when it comes to football they always stay focused and listen to what the coach says. So they really don’t talk much.”
These seniors were Herron’s first four-year players as South Pointe’s head coach. Pearson said it was crucial that when they joined the team late in the 2011 season, “they really bought into what the coaches were trying to instill in them and they worked hard every day in practice.” The group’s early experiences were foundational for the success they’re still experiencing four seasons later.
This isn’t a new thing that South Pointe’s coaching staff cooked up. Other great programs do it too. Hartsville has 25 players on its current roster that participated to some extent during the Red Foxes’ undefeated state championship run in 2012 as freshmen or sophomores, including starting junior linebacker Datavious Wilson. One thing stands out in his memory from the experience as a ninth-grader at Williams-Brice Stadium.
“I’ll tell you what I remember, I remember them lights,” said Wilson, who has grown into a 6-foot-2, 225-pounder with a scholarship offer from Appalachian State and interest from a number of schools, including Clemson. “Them lights were very bright.”
Wilson didn’t play much in Hartsville’s 62-27 rout of Union County. But he also won’t be as nervous this Saturday as he was in 2012.
“We feel like this time around we’re putting into it more than when we were freshmen and sophomores,” he said.
While the South Pointe seniors weren’t as relaxed in front of the media as Wilson was on Monday, they should be calm and collected before Saturday’s title game at Williams-Brice Stadium. Freshmen like Kendrick will need them to be, because it will be their turn some day down the line.
“We have a confidence – it’s not arrogance – but it’s a confidence about what we do,” said Herron. “It’s gone on a long time.”