Thursday, August 30, 2007

Power shift in track and field

With Harding’s Nyosha Bryant transferring to West Charlotte this year and with Harding losing Kamorean Hayes to graduation, the balance of power has shifted in girls’ track and field in North Carolina.

Look for West Charlotte to be the team to beat at the 4A state championships after Harding won three of the last four titles.
Sure, it takes more than one person to win a state championship, but consider that Bryant, the All-Observer girls’ track and field runner of the year last spring, can provide a lot of points.

She can likely give West Charlotte 10 points in two relays and 10 points each in the 100 meters, where she owns the fourth-fastest time in N.C. history at 11.57, and in the 200 meters, where she has the sixth-fastest time in state history (23.88).

If she decides not to run one of the relays, she’s good enough to win the long jump, where she won last year’s N.C. indoor title and has a best of 19-feet, 5 inches outdoors (tied for 16th best in N.C. history), or score big in the 400 meters, where she ran once or twice last year and had several fast splits on some relays.

Another thing that bodes well for West Charlotte is that Bryant is familiar with her teammates and with sprint coach Trent Guy Sr., one of the state’s best. Bryant ran summer track with several of West Charlotte’s sprinters (Shequrya Guy, Jasmine Dupont and Shenia Glover) and has been coached by Guy the last few years.

If West Charlotte can find another leg in the 400-meter relay, Bryant’s presence makes it possible for the Lions to go after the all-time N.C. best of 46.61 set by Harding in 2006. Bryant ran on that team and also ran on the Harding team last year that ran 46.62, the second-best in N.C. history.

At last spring’s N.C. 4A championships, Bryant finished second in the 200 meters and ran on the winning 800-meter relay and 1,600-meter relay. Aside from running on the top-two 400-meter relay teams in N.C. history, she also ran on the second-fastest 800-meter relay in N.C. history when she competed on the team that ran 1:38.78. -- Brett Honeycutt

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Garinger could end streak this year

Browsing Garinger’s schedule, I see two possibilities the Wildcats have at ending that infamous losing streak, which is currently at 48 straight games.
First, two tidbits about the streak: Even if the Wildcats finish 0-11 this season, they would be two games shy of the N.C. record of 59 straight losses set by Gumberry in 1972-1978, and more than two years away from the national record of 82 straight losses set by Glascock County High in Gibson, Ga., in 1990-99.

Though Garinger has opened the season with a 65-0 loss to Myers Park and a 41-0 loss to Vance, both of those teams are considered solid and some of the best in the area.

This coming Oct. 5, Garinger hosts Berry, a team that squeaked past the Wildcats last year and has been outscored 78-7 in its first two games this season (losses to North Mecklenburg and Hopewell).

In last year’s game, Garinger trailed 14-6 late in the fourth quarter and was coming off a series where the Wildcats stopped Berry on fourth and 19 at Garinger’s 25. The Wildcats got as close as Berry's 14 with 2 minutes, 32 seconds left, but penalties ruined any chance of a score. Berry scored with seconds remaining to make the final score 20-6.

On Nov. 2, the last game of the year, Garinger visits Waddell.
Although Waddell ran away with a 35-6 victory last year and finished 4-7 overall, the Raiders displayed little offense in the other three victories which came against Berry (6-0), West Mecklenburg (7-0) and Harding (21-13).

This season, Waddell is 0-2 and has been outscored 85-6 in games against East Mecklenburg and South Mecklenburg.

Don’t count Garinger out, though. The season is young and after talking to first-year coach Chris Carter at the beginning of the season, I had the feeling he could help Garinger end the streak this year or next. -- Brett Honeycutt

5 reasons Independence will lose Saturday

The Independence Patriots have won 109 straight games, but those seven years of success will end Saturday night.
Yes, Cincinnati Elder will upset the Patriots at the Ohio vs. USA challenge in Cincinnati, ending the second-longest winning streak in high school football history. Go ahead and shake your head (a few other Observer reporters have), but consider this: the last time I picked Independence to lose came in its regular-season game against Butler last season – a game the Patriots had to rally from a 21-point deficit to win 30-24 in double overtime.
And, I’m a little familiar with Ohio football. I grew up outside Columbus, and teams there don’t cancel games for rain or snow. They will play in any conditions, and play well. According to Rivals.com, Ohio has six of the top 100 recruits in the country – North Carolina has two. Only one of those recruits is playing in this game – and he’s not on Independence. In fact, he’s one of the five reasons Elder will be the streak stopper Saturday.
Five reasons Independence loses Saturday:
1. The crowd. Expect 20,000 fans at Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati, and all but a handful of them will be rooting against the Patriots. Elder regularly draws 10,000 to its stadium, and this is its biggest game of the season.
2. Elder’s tradition. Independence’s streak is impressive, but Elder has faced a school with a longer streak. De La Salle High School in California had a 151-game streak until 2004. Elder lost to De La Salle 56-38 last year, but the Panthers have had generations worth of experience in big games. Elder has won 519 games, 65 percent of its games. The school has been playing football since 1923, or more than 30 years before Independence coach Tom Knotts was born.
3. Independence’s distractions. The Patriots are taking a lengthy day of travel Friday, and then have practice late Friday night. Then they have to wait through three games on Saturday before finally taking the field at 7:45 p.m. That’s a lot of waiting around, and a lot of time for nerves to set in.
4. Kyle Rudolph. The Elder tight end – ranked the No.25 recruit in the nation by rivals.com – has committed to Notre Dame, and his size will give Independence trouble. He’s 6-foot-7, 230 pounds. The Patriots like to blitz, but Elder can negate that with quick screens to Rudolph that will exploit the Independence aggressiveness.
5. Elder coach Doug Ramsey. Independence has a lot of new faces. Ramsey has won two state championships, so he knows how to find an opponent’s weakness. Last week, Ramsey called a fake punt on 4th-and-20 from the Elder 34, and Rudolph ran for a first down. That’s a call none of Independence’s other opponents would dare to make. Independence won’t handle adversity well playing 500 miles from home.
-- Kevin Cary

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Football report from the North

Thoughts and scenes from the football fields around Lake Norman:

-- After missing four games due to injury and splitting time last year, South Iredell running back Anthony Thwaites still nearly gained 1,000 yards. This year, he’s nearly halfway there. After two games, Thwaites has 430 yards in leading the Vikings to a 2-0 start.

This Friday, he gets to prove himself against one of the best in the area, West Iredell running back Bobby Morrison, who ran for 274 yards in West Iredell’s only game of the season.

-- Best names found thus far: Tequilis Knox (Mooresville running back), T. Dalton (South Iredell wide receiver), Montreal Wilson (North Lincoln wide receiver), T.C. Rollings (South Iredell quarterback).

-- Looking for some solid all-around players? Hopewell’s Stephen Rust rushed for a touchdown, threw for a touchdown, made nine tackles and punted for a 34-yard average against Waddell on Friday. North Lincoln’s Eddie Guzman ran for a touchdown, caught a touchdown pass and returned a punt for a touchdown against Bunker Hill last week. Not a bad night’s work.

-- Most likely to recover from opening week loss: East Lincoln. New quarterback Josh Wilson struggled against Newton-Conover, but found his way in a 34-7 romp of Catawba Bandys. He also has a lot of weapons and a solid offensive coach in Mike Byus.

-- Least likely to recover: Bandys. Who would have thought any Bandys team would start 0-2, scoring seven points in the process? If running back LeQuan McCorkle doesn’t recovery from injury very soon, it will only get worse.

-- North Meck will do better in ME-CA 6 4A play than many expected after the loss of virtually the entire offense and defense. The Vikings won’t win the conference as last year, but they’ll put up a fight. One request – please start passing the ball a couple more times a game before sophomore running back Xavier Joplin starts walking like a retired NFL offensive lineman.

-- East Lincoln plays the Eagles of Kennedy Charter this week. Who? A Google search found that Kennedy Charter will play a four-game schedule this year. That should be an interesting final score.

-- Area leaders after week two: Lake Norman quarterback Zach Connell (25-51, 409 yards, five touchdowns), Thwaites (44 carries, 430 yards, four touchdowns) and Lake Norman receiver Tyler McRorie (10 catches, 239 yards, three touchdowns). -- Dan Tierney

Football report from the North

Thoughts and scenes from the football fields around Lake Norman:

-- After missing four games due to injury and splitting time last year, South Iredell running back Anthony Thwaites still nearly gained 1,000 yards. This year, he’s nearly halfway there. After two games, Thwaites has 430 yards in leading the Vikings to a 2-0 start.

This Friday, he gets to prove himself against one of the best in the area, West Iredell running back Bobby Morrison, who ran for 274 yards in West Iredell’s only game of the season.

-- Best names found thus far: Tequilis Knox (Mooresville running back), T. Dalton (South Iredell wide receiver), Montreal Wilson (North Lincoln wide receiver), T.C. Rollings (South Iredell quarterback).

-- Looking for some solid all-around players? Hopewell’s Stephen Rust rushed for a touchdown, threw for a touchdown, made nine tackles and punted for a 34-yard average against Waddell on Friday. North Lincoln’s Eddie Guzman ran for a touchdown, caught a touchdown pass and returned a punt for a touchdown against Bunker Hill last week. Not a bad night’s work.

-- Most likely to recover from opening week loss: East Lincoln. New quarterback Josh Wilson struggled against Newton-Conover, but found his way in a 34-7 romp of Catawba Bandys. He also has a lot of weapons and a solid offensive coach in Mike Byus.

-- Least likely to recover: Bandys. Who would have thought any Bandys team would start 0-2, scoring seven points in the process? If running back LeQuan McCorkle doesn’t recovery from injury very soon, it will only get worse.

-- North Meck will do better in ME-CA 6 4A play than many expected after the loss of virtually the entire offense and defense. The Vikings won’t win the conference as they did last year, but they’ll put up a fight. One request – please start passing the ball a couple more times a game before sophomore running back Xavier Joplin starts walking like a retired NFL offensive lineman.

-- East Lincoln plays the Eagles of Kennedy Charter this week. Who? A Google search found that Kennedy Charter will play a four-game schedule this year. That should be an interesting final score.

-- Area leaders after week two: Lake Norman quarterback Zach Connell (25-51, 409 yards, five touchdowns), Thwaites (44 carries, 430 yards, four touchdowns) and Lake Norman receiver Tyler McRorie (10 catches, 239 yards, three touchdowns). -- Dan Tierney

5 things about Gaston, Lincoln football

Five things I’ve learned about Gaston and Lincoln football so far this season:
1. Belmont South Point might make a serious run at the Big South 3A/4A title. The Red Raiders need consistent passing from quarterback Desmond Lowery, but South Point should win at least eight games this season.
2. Lincolnton’s Cedric Herndon might be one of the three best running backs in the Southern Piedmont 1A/2A, and he doesn’t even start. C.J. Wilson is Lincolnton’s starter, but Herndon’s speed and power will give the Wolves a strong tandem this season.
3. Ashbrook receiver Jheranie Boyd will be hard for Big South 3A/4A defensive backs to cover. He’s 6-foot-2 and knows how to catch the ball in traffic.
4. North Gaston’s offense can overwhelm opponents. The Wildcats are averaging more than 45 points a game, and running back Princeton Brooks had more than 300 yards rushing against Bessemer City last week.
5. Officials are really emphasizing the sideline rule this season. Teams can have three coaches within the 3-yard sideline zone, and that zone extends outside the coaching box to each goal line. I’ve seen officials turn away from game action three times to check whether teams are following the rule during play.
-- Kevin Cary

High school baseball stars cash in

Brother, can you spare a dime?

David Mailman and Madison Bumgarner can.

The two best high school baseball players in North Carolina cashed in recently, and signed huge contracts to play professionally.

It couldn’t have happened to two nicer, more well-grounded young men.

Mailman, who graduated from Providence High, signed a deal worth $550,000 with the Boston Red Sox. The picked Mailman in the seventh round, but even on draft day in June, he said he wanted the equivalent of second-round money.

The deep-pocked Red Sox ponied up for Mailman, an outfielder who slammed 14 home runs, hit .541, walked 35 times and had a 1.361 slugging percentage, all school records, as a senior.

Mailman was Providence’s unassuming star. Wasn’t the Panthers’ biggest, loudest or fastest player. Always yes-sir, no-sir. He thanked me about nine times after an interview in the preseason. Didn’t have to.

Mailman started last week with the Red Sox of the Gulf Coast Rookie League, where humidity is thicker than the fans in the stands. He’s hitting .227 (five-for-22) with a home run and two RBIs.

Bumgarner, a lefthanded pitcher from South Caldwell High, signed a $2 million deal with the San Francisco Giants. He was a first-round pick (No. 10 overall), and will report to the fall instructional league in Arizona.

Bumgarner, a 6-foot-5, 220-pounder, has a 95 mph fastball. He was Gatorade N.C. player of the year, and made several All-America teams.

His size and blazing pitches made him stand out as a high schooler, but Bumgarner was humble and thankful every time I spoke with him.

He hugged teammates - all the Spartans did - after every game.

Both stars had fallback plans if the money wasn’t right. Mailman was headed to Wake Forest, and Bumgarner to North Carolina. They won’t meet in college, but in the pro ranks, you never know.

At least they won’t have to argue over who buys lunch.

-- Cliff Mehrtens

Monday, August 27, 2007

Union football Week 2

For the rest of the season, I will attempt to write a follow-up to the Union County football game I cover each week and publish it Monday in this blog.

(You didn't think I work weekends, did you?)

We'll start with Week 2, what I heard and learned at the Monroe-Weddington game:

The game ended awfully late, just in time for "Conan" I think. That precluded us from getting my observations into Saturday's paper. Here they are:

--Weddington may not have much depth on offense and defense for a 4A team, but the Warriors have as much kicking depth as a college team. Shawn Dodd, their kicker for the past three seasons, is the punter. Carter Stinman is the new kicker. Stinman, a senior, made a 40-yard field goal that would have easily been good from 50 and consistently nailed touchbacks on his kickoffs.

--Monroe’s Jake Sanders, a senior, also exhibited strong kicking skills. The Redhawks’ quarterback, nailed touchbacks on his first two kickoffs and had a 56-yard punt in the first half.

--Weddington senior Stephen Efird was removed from the sideline on a stretcher during the second quarter and taken to a local hospital. The running back/defensive end left the game in the first quarter under his own power.

--Kyle Bryant filled in well for Efird in the Warriors’ backfield. The junior, a backup quarterback last year, accounted for more than 200 yards of total offense running and receiving. After Efird plowed into the Redhawks early in the game, Bryant must have surprised them with his 4.5 speed.

--Jameze Massey continued his strong start to the season for Monroe. The senior tailback returned a punt for a touchdown, scored on a long reception and rushed for over 100 yards.

Here is what else I picked up Friday night:

--Strong final three quarters for Weddington quarterback Anthony Boone. After the sophomore misfired on his first five attempts, he completed 10 of his final 20 for 212 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran for the game-winning score.

--The first quarter was brutal. The teams were flagged for penalties a combined nine times, Boone did not complete a pass, Efird suffered the injury. And, most importantly, the air conditioning went out in the press box.

--Brandon Ames, a senior defensive back, led the Warriors with 10 tackles.

--Donnard Covington, Monroe's starting fullback, missed the game due to injury.

--Boone on Bryant: "It was very important for him to step up like that (in Efird's absence)." Weddington is very thin at tailback. Coaches spent a lot of time during last week's practices teaching the 5-10, 175-pound junior to run inside, which Williams said paid off against Monroe.

--Weddington coach Phil Williams was less than pleased with the breakdowns in coverage and high number of penalties. "They didn't want it," he said of the Redhawks. He added: "We didn't want it."

One final note: At least one Union County football coach was infuriated by comments Independence coaches Tom Knotts and Bill Geiler made in an Observer story last week.

Knotts complained about losing highly regarded tight end Mario Carter to a season-ending injury. Independence, of course, is much deeper than most teams in the Charlotte area.

Said coach leads a team that struggles with numbers. So he didn't appreciate Knotts and Geiler mourning the loss of one player -- no matter how talented he may be.

Now who's that Ohio team Indy plays Saturday?

A little bit about Cincinnati (Ohio) Elder, the team that Independence plays Saturday at Cincinnati's Nippert Stadium. Kickoff Saturday is at 7:45 p.m. You can see the game at http://www.ohiovsusa.com/ for $7.95.

-- Elder is a private Catholic all boys schools for students in 9th to 12th grade. Tuition is $7,200.

-- Elder's star player is senior tight end Kyle Rudolph, a 6-foot-7, 230 pound senior. Rudolph, also the team's punter, is ranked by many recruiting services as the No. 1 tight end prospect in the country. He's committed to Notre Dame, where he'll be a future teammate of Butler's star defensive back, Robert Blanton, one of the nation's best at his position.

-- Elder won its season opener 21-14 over Lakota West last Saturday at Nippert Stadium. Elder WR Nick Olthaus won the game with a 37-yard reverse for a touchdown with 37 seconds left.

Olthaus got his opportunity after Rudolph was lining up for a punt on 4th and 20 at his own 34. Rudolph saw Lakota West's players not ready on the play and took off to his right for a 29-yard gain.

-- Here's an Elder photo

-- Here are game photos shot by Elder's high school staff from last week's game

-- Here are some videos of Elder from last week's game.

-- Elder's 2006 team was 6-4, outscoring opponents 26-21 on average. The 2005 team was 4-6 and the 2004 team was 7-4. The 2003 team was 14-1 and won the state title.

-- Elder High School plays its home games at The Pit, a 70-plus year old stadium that seats up to 10,000.

So after seeing photos and information about Elder, what do you think? Are they capable of beating Independence? Respond in the comments section below.

--------------------------------------------------------
Langston Wertz Jr.
lwertz@charlotteobserver.com

Friday, August 24, 2007

And in the moments before kickoff....

Scenes prior to the start of Friday's Myers Park at Charlotte Catholic game.


6:37: I arrive on Catholic's campus, driving my car through a maze of people on a one-lane driveway. Well, most days it's two lanes, but some folks got here awful early for a 7:30 p.m. start and parked well, lining one half of the driveway that winds through campus. I see hundreds of Myers Park parents wearing green T-shirts that read "Mustangs" on the front. Every year, my bosses ask me to rate the best fans and I never include Myers Park. The bosses only want five schools. If I did a sixth, it would definitely be the Mustangs’ loyalists. Combined with the loyal Catholic crowd, all dressed in red, this has the feel of a small college Saturday.

Other than the fact that it's hot enough to bake cookies, this is the perfect high school football environment.


6:45: After I sat in the air conditioning of the car for a few minutes, almost trying to hold my breath and make the cool air last, I get out. There is a huge portable grill smoking two parking spaces from me and about 15 Catholic students tailgating. The boys are shirtless and two of them are practicing long snapping and punting. The girls sip some beverages and laugh and talk on their cell phones.


The beverages are legal, by the way.

6:50: The press box feels like Key West in June. It's all dead air and thick. Two white fans on either side are blowing outward, attempting to keep suck the hot air out. It’s not working out too well. I'm tempted to turn one of the fans towards me. Forget about air blowing out.

6:52: Myers Park's team descends down the stairs and runs in front of an already strong crowd. Kickoff isn't until 7:30 Their fans go wild.

6:56: Myers Park’s band arrives, sans uniforms (and who can blame them). Everyone has on khaki shorts and white T-shirts. Outside, you can see hundreds of people walking towards the field. I’m thinking, “I hope the thunderstorms hold off.” But the rock music blaring over the PA is so loud I can’t really hear myself think. I do miss two cellphone calls because I don’t hear it ring.

When I look at the phone, my wife’s name, Whitni, shows up. I’m kind of glad I missed the calls (honey-do lists you know).

Kidding, kidding.

7:00: Wait guys, I’ll be back in a minute. It’s so hot in the press box, I gotta walk outside. I think Ethiopia feels better than this.

7:08: I’m back. I have discovered that walking into a cement enclosed men’s bathroom with no ventilation is not necessarily the best idea to enter when it’s 95 degrees. But as I went to go and get a Powerade, I saw several hundred Catholic students literally run into the stadium. Most of them had their faces, legs or arms painted red. My favorite was a guy with a cowboy hat on, red face paint, a fake plastic gun on his waist and a red handkerchief over his nose and mouth.

7:23: Excuse me gotta stand up now. Catholic’s band is about to play “The Star Spangled Banner.”

7:30: Kickoff. A great Friday night of football is ahead.

I can’t wait to see it.

--------------------------------------------
Langston Wertz Jr.
lwertz@charlotteobserver.com

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Biggest win in NC week one was......

Looking back at Week 1:

Biggest upset? Indian Trail Sun Valley goes to defending 3AA champ Eastern Randolph and wins 35-10. Eastern Randolph only returned three starters from a 15-1 team that beat Charlotte Catholic 15-7 in last year's state championship game, but it's an impressive win for coach Scott Stein's team.

Sun Valley will be a team to watch, too, with 13 starters back from a 10-4 team and one of the best wide receivers in the state in junior Ray Ray Davis. Great win for Sun Valley last week and with West Stanly coming to Sun Valley this week, plus another home game following with Weddington, the Spartans could be 3-0 headng into a Sept. 7 South Piedmont 3A conference showdown with Alfred L Brown (y'all know them as the Wonders of Kannapolis).

Best player? Defenders rarely get much love, but I really loved the line on Olympic LB Jared Seate Friday: 16 tackles, two pass breaks up against Providence in another big upset last week.

Best Game? Catholic-South Meck was packed and loud and went to an exciting double OT finish after a ho-hum start. That's a great rivalry brewing there with two schools battling that are literally across the street from each other. Let's call it the Park Rd. Rivalry. Catholic's preseason schedule, which includes Country Day, Latin, Myers Park and North Gaston, is second to none. It's a high school Murderer's Row, at least at the sub 4A level.

Best Site For Friday night? C'mon guys. Nobody in the area is giving you live updates like at charlotte.com/preps and you get postgame stories, video highlights. It's all there.

OK, that was a shameless plug.

--------------------------------------
Langston Wertz Jr.
lwertz@charlotteobserver.com


N.C. football FINALLY gets some national respect

North Carolina has long been known for its high school basketball strength and has been considered especially weak in prep football.

Funny, but now N.C. basketball is down from years past (I cannot figure out why) and N.C. football is on the rise.

The national media is finally taking notice.

In Sports Illustrated's preseason rankings, Independence is ranked No. 6 in the country and Butler is No. 25. No S.C. teams are ranked.

Independence starts the season No. 3 in USA Today's national poll.

Given that Indy and Butler are both in the Southwestern 4A, it says wonders about how tough that conference is.

And there's this: if both teams stay unbeaten, we could have a national showdown when Butler and Independence meet on Nov. 2.

So let me start beating my drum now. I want to see the teams move that game to Thursday Nov. 1, so everyone in the area can see the game and not choose between the heavyweight championship showdown and their own local team's game on Friday, Nov. 2.

The teams cannot play Saturday because the N.C. High School Athletic Association puts together playoff pairings on that Saturday and Indy-Butler would hold up the state.

So let's play it Thursday -- and everybody come watch.

--------------------------------------------------------------
Langston Wertz Jr.
lwertz@charlotteobserver.com

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Providence's Taj Mahal has nothing on this

Providence High has the best on campus facilities in Mecklenburg County. I call the Panthers' sports arenas the "Taj Mahal" of the area.

But the 'Dence has nothing on Newton North High, a 35-year-old school just outside of Boston.

Newton North was so rundown a few months ago that the New England Association of Schools and Colleges pronounced it "morally unacceptable."

And get this. Voters approved $151 million to fix it up, more than twice what new schools in that area are built for. Can you imagine that happening here in the Queen City?

The new Newton will open in the fall of 2010 and will probably attract students from far and wide. Consider:

-- It has the city’s only public indoor pool (with locker rooms and seats for 200 spectators)

-- An indoor track.

-- A public theater with pulleys to raise up stage scenery and actors (who want to do the Beyonce or Janet Jackson thing).

-- A 4,000 square foot restaurant; 58 class rooms; 16 science labs; 600-seat cafeteria; a robotics lab; an auto shop with three car lifts; a child development center; two full size gyms; a fitness center; a dance studio/wrestling room; and a 2,500 seat football stadium.

My question is: why's the football field so tiny?

Monday, August 20, 2007

Bruce Hardin and Phil Williams leftovers

Here are some tidbits about Bruce Hardin (Marvin Ridge) and Phil Williams (Weddington) that did not make it into last week's Neighbors of Union County profiles on these two new football coaches:





Hardin

--Hardin considers his mentors in coaching to be Bobby Ross, Mack Brown, Dick Crum and Ara Parseghian. He was an assistant under Ross for three years at Army, and worked summer camps for Brown and Crum at North Carolina. Parseghian coached at Notre Dame from 1964-74.


--Mike Yerry, a Marvin Ridge junior tight end, on Hardin: "Everything he says, it works out."


--Some of Hardin's other favorite books, in addition to "Lonesome Dove," "The Count of Monte Christo," and "To Kill a Mockingbird" include: "Animal Farm," "For Whom the Bell Tolls," and "Les Miserables."


Williams

--Williams considers himself to be a motivator who focuses on fundamentals and techniques. He leaves much of the game plans up to his assistants. "I'm not a scheme guy," he said.


--Williams is the Warriors' fourth coach in the program's eighth season since Weddington opened. "I plan on being here a long time," he said.


--Williams is drawn to an area like Weddington. "I won't coach no thugs," he said.


--Williams on motivating his players: "I think I can sell kids without any doubt that they know I care about them. Hopefully that gets them to play hard."


--When Williams retires from coaching, he hopes people say about him: "When he had good athletes, he didn't screw 'em up."


--Ben Atkinson, a senior safety, on drawing motivation from Williams as the coach copes with his son's accident: "That's harder than anything we've been through. It does inspire us."


--A few Warrior seniors said the team is much more upbeat this year than last season. They attribute that shift to the presence of Williams and other new coaches on his staff. Perhaps that will help the Warriors, who averaged several turnovers a game last year.


"He's just a lot more positive," said Stephen Efird, a senior tailback/defensive end.


"Before, it was like you were walking on egg shells," said lineman Justin Litaker. "I think (this season) we'll be more calm and just react."


"Instead of trying not to mess up, you can be more wide open," Atkinson said. "I wish I could have had four years with (Williams)."


--Joel Allen, a Warrior assistant who has known Williams since playing for him at Lancaster Buford (S.C.), is impressed with how Williams has composed himself since his son's accident. "He's handled it about as good as anybody can," Allen said.


--Assistants said Williams can get by on three-four hours of sleep a night. Come game time, he only concerns himself with getting his team ready to play. "I've never known him to be worried about another team," said Allen Plyler, the Weddington receivers coach who played for Williams at Buford.
-- Ryan Basen

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Prep overtime needs an overhaul

High school football in North Carolina needs a new overtime rule.

This business about four downs from the 10 yard line is long outdated.

Last night, I was at the Charlotte Catholic-South Mecklenburg game that went to double overtime, and if South Meck hadn't gone for two on its second series, we might still be there this morning.

If you're not familiar, in high school OT, each team gets a possession at the 10. You keep going until one team wins after both teams go through their series of downs.

I've been to about 20 overtime games in my writing career and all but three of them were shorter than two possessions. I've seen some 70-69 games and 59-58 games and that kind of thing.

Nowadays offenses are so sophisticated that it's hard to stop a team from 10 yards on one series, particularly at the end of the game when the defense is tiring.

I'd love to see N.C. schools adopt a rule similar to college teams, where you get the ball from the 25 and get a first down from there. That would bring the kicking game into it a lot more, and give defenses a fighting chance.

Anyone with me on this?

--------------------------------------------------------------------
Langston Wertz Jr.
lwertz@charlotteobserver.com

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Heat forcing some schools to push back game times to 8 p.m.

Heading to a high school football game Friday night?

Make sure you doublecheck the start time with the home school. Several area schools have pushed back start times for games because of the expected heat. Games pushed back to 8 p.m. include:

-Alexander Central at North Gaston
-Nation Ford (SC) at Forestview
-Newton-Conover at East Lincoln
-Lincolnton at East Rutherford
-West Lincoln at Hickory St. Stephens
-North Lincoln at Lake Norman

Home games for Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools are still scheduled for 7 p.m. as of Thursday morning.

- Kevin Cary

Friday, August 10, 2007

Pigskins, Mustangs and ....Mules?

Some quick preseason football observations after touring the 10 Lake Norman-area schools (Catawba Bandys, East Lincoln, Hopewell, Lake Norman, Mooresville, North Lincoln, North Mecklenburg, South Iredell, SouthLake Christian and Statesville):

- Most unusual scene: As the Bandys bigs banged into each other in the corner of the school’s practice field, two mules appeared from the woods and watched from behind a fence.

- Best practice uniforms: East Lincoln Mustangs. The green and orange color scheme makes it feel like a practice at Coral Gables – except for the whole lack of palm trees and sandy beaches.

- Best overheard exchange: "You’re walking around like you’ve been shot," said an assistant coach to an injured player limping around the field in a T-shirt, shorts and flip-flops.
"It’s a pimp walk, coach," the player replied.

- Most commonly used coach-ism: "Atta baby."

- Most overheard player remark: "It’s (expletive) hot."

- Funniest coach-ism: "Don’t look at him like he’s magical, knock him off the ball."

- Funniest coach-ism that the vast majority of players likely didn’t understand: From the same coach as the previous quote to his kicker who boomed a ball out of reach of everyone during a kickoff return drill: "Maybe Garo Yepremian won’t kick this one 80 yards."

- Worried about swirling rumors, most coaches acted very cautiously when talking about players who transferred to their school. After mentioning the players, they were usually quick to add that the player’s family lived nearby.

- East Lincoln coach Mike Byus and Bandys coach Randy Lowman have to be sweating, even if they didn’t admit it. At Bandys, senior running back LeQuan McCorkle tweaked a hamstring while running a wheel route and sat out the rest of practice on Monday. At East Lincoln, senior running back Adrian Forney nursed an injury suffered while playing in summer basketball leagues, Byus said. The two, who both had 1,000-plus yards last year, could post monster seasons this year if they remain healthy.

- The biggest hitter in the area might roam the secondary for North Lincoln. Senior safety Eddie Guzman hammered two of his own teammates in the span of a couple plays during live drills on Wednesday. "He’s bad news," said admiring North Lincoln coach Matt Beam.

- East Lincoln junior wide receiver Keith Rendleman might have the most potential of any player in the area. At a legitimate 6-foot-5 since last year, Rendleman is growing into his frame. Playing basketball (he averaged 15 and 10 as a sophomore and spent part of this summer playing in an AAU tournament in Florida) will only help his coordination. -- Dan Tierney

Nothing fishy about Indy-Catholic scrimmage

I heard a few people phoned CMS officials Friday morning to report that Independence and Charlotte Catholic were having an illegal scrimmage.

Just not true.

You may recall that Thursday night, CMS canceled all scrimmages until Saturday.

Teams were allowed to practice today from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. as usual. Late last night, Independence coaches contacted Vicki Hamilton, CMS athletics director, and got the OK to have a scrimmage at Catholic today.

The difference was, unlike Thursday's scheduled scrimmage which was canceled, there would not be any officials.

N.C. High School Athletic Association rules say teams can have seven hours of scrimmages before regular season play. Two of those seven hours have to be with uniformed officials.

Since Catholic and Independence have later scrimmages scheduled with officials, them having what amounted to an open practice today was fine.

This was a long way from what we would've seen Thursday. Only one extra point was tried. There were no kickoffs or punts. Each team got to run 10 straight offensive plays three times.

It was like a jamboree with two teams. By the way, Butler and Olympic did the same thing Friday morning.

-- One thing I liked seeing today at the scrimmage and one thing I noticed:

I noticed how the Independence guys showed so much love openly for their teammate, tight end Mario Carter, after Carter appeared to suffer a season ending knee injury. Carter is expected to miss two weeks with a dislocated kneecap.

The Patriots, most teary eyed, were hugging each other and dedicated their season to Carter. "We're a big family," quarterback Anthony Carrothers said.

Maybe, but there was definitely a togetherness I didn't always see last year.

-- I liked seeing how the Catholic kids came over, as a group, to check on Carter and hugged some of the Independence kids. Catholic even got together in a team huddle and broke it by screaming "MARIO!"

It was a great, great show of sportsmanship by both teams.

-- Langston Wertz Jr.
lwertz@charlotteobserver.com

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Calling scrimmages the right call by CMS

There are a few coaches and players miffed tonight because Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools called off a heavy slate of scrimmage games.

I can understand.

Tonight was the first time many of the teams were going to hit someone who didn't wear the same color helmet.

But it's just too hot.

It was 102 today, which was the highest temperature ever recorded on Aug. 9 in Charlotte. It was two degrees off the highest temperature ever recorded in Charlotte.

As I write this now, at 6:42 p.m. -- less than an hour before some scheduled kickoffs tonight -- it's still cook-an-egg-on-the-driveway hot.

I have no doubt that most of the student-athletes tonight would have had no problem with the heat. They've been working out in it since school let out in June, sometimes twice a day.

I worry more for the referees, the scorekeepers and the fans in the stands, sitting on those toasty metal bleachers, just baking in the sun until about 8:30, then roasting in the warm night air until about 10.

I worry about Grandma coming to see her baby play for the first time, or the guy who doesn't know he shouldn't be out in this kind of heat. Just one incident is one too many.

I know teams need to scrimmage, especially with the season starting next week, but it's just not worth the risk tonight.

CMS, often criticized for making the wrong call, should be applauded tonight for making the right one. -- Langston Wertz Jr.

Prep Football Vidcast - Aug. 9

Cliff Mehrtens and Langston Wertz Jr. preview the season

Monday, August 6, 2007

There's a Leak in N.C. recordbook

The flood of talk lately about setting records - Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriquez, Brett Favre - got me to thinking.

Which North Carolina high school football individual records will be hardest to surpass? I scrolled through the N.C. High School Athletic Association, and two words keep ringing in my head.

Chris Leak.

The former Independence quarterback owns most of the state passing records, and it will take a long time - and very special quarterback - to replace Leak’s legacy.

He played from 1999-2002, so I (and many of you) have fresh memories of Leak’s stunning games. The ball came out his hand differently than high school quarterbacks. He threw patterns others could only dream about.

The convergence of coach Tom Knotts’ high powered passing strategy, and a quarterback like Leak to execute it, made the numbers staggering:

Total offense, career: Leak had 16,590 yards.

The runner-up has 10,836.

Touchdown responsibility, career: Leak had 218 (185 passing, 33 rushing).

The runner-up has 178.

Total offense, season: Leak had 5,494 in 2002.

The runner-up has 4,820.

Career completions: Leak had 1,013.

The runner-up has 757.

Career touchdown passes: Leak had 185.

The runner-up has 116.

None of the second-place recordholders are close. The top three marks for passing yards in a season? Leak, Leak and Leak.

Will the records stand? Who knows for sure? Someday another version of Leak may emerge, with a coach willing to toss the ball around, and enough talent on the team to make it happen.
He’ll have to have a freshman step in and average more than 45 scoring passes for four years. That doesn’t happen too often, unless your name is Chris Leak.

-- Cliff Mehrtens

Friday, August 3, 2007

Is AAU bad for high school and college basketball?

On my question-and-answer column today, a reader relates a story I hear quite often about AAU basketball.

Her family took a trip to Florida so her child could stay in a hotel room with her during a recent AAU tournament. The other teammates weren't so lucky.

Ten or 12 were herded into two hotel rooms with two beds. The coach then gathered money, allegedly to get something for the team, and proceeded to go out and chase women. At least it's how her story goes.

I cannot tell you how often I hear those kinds of stories. I am not a big fan of AAU basketball for a number of reasons, and having non-sactioned coaches is at the head of my list.

Who knows where these guys come from. Some are quite good, mind you, and know their stuff. I am a huge fan of Rick Lewis' Carolina Flight organization in the Huntersville area. They teach, teach, teach and have one of the best fundamentals camps I've ever seen. It kicks up again next month on Saturdays and Sundays.

And I could go on and name names of a lot of folks who I think are good -- and bad -- but this isn't the place for that. I will say that one of my best friends, Kevin Ligon of the Charlotte ACES, has been running an AAU organization for nearly as long as I've been writing, which is now more than two decades.

Kevin says many AAU guys are good guys and are about teaching the game. Others, he admits, are out for self and to try to find a superstar to sell to a college and ultimately get paid as a NBA hanger on or to get a college assistants' job -- or something closer to The University, if you know what I'm saying.

At least in high school, I know the coaches are employed by the school system and have been screened. The great majority of them do have the kids' best interest at heart, but AAU has hurt their ability to coach. You have many, not all, AAU coaches trying to route kids to certain programs and forcing transfers and pulling kids out of high school practice for AAU practice when the sports overlap (normally doing high school playoffs). The high school coaches end up in adversarial positions sometimes with the AAU coaches over kids whom both sets of coaches should have the same goal for.

That is, as the kids say today, not a good look.

I've seen too many AAU teams with no fundamentals and no plays, just running up and down the floor. So many pundits will tell you AAU basketball has been terrible for our game. I can't disagree.

AAU has really exploded in the past 10 years and that mirrors about when USA International basketball has gone down. While the Europeans learn to pass and shoot, we learn to crossover dribble, dunk and make SportsCenter.

Nothing much is going to change immediately. I can only hope parents will make informed choices about their kids. I can only hope that players will open their eyes and really see who it is, in their particular situations, who really has their best interest at heart.

A lot of times it isn't the guy giving you free Nikes to ride with him to Virginia to play five games in a day.

Later

LW
lwertz@charlotteobserver.com

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Live from Marvin Ridge...

In an episode of "Seinfeld," Jerry is bewildered by the awesome powers of newspaper staffers. "You ever notice how they always make everything fit into a newspaper?" he says.

Little did he know: It's not quite that simple. A lot gets cut from the time reporters conduct interviews and research until the story runs in the paper. A lot of good stuff, stuff that may interest readers.

It's my hope this year to consistently post some of that stuff on this blog. That way you'll come to understand it's not the reporters who get off on cutting the quotes and notes you provide us. It's the copy editors. (Just kidding guys. Please don't slash my tires).

If these segments were for an ESPN Classic "Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame...", Brian Kenny and his hair weave would call them "Best of the Rest." If they were a DVD, I'd call them deleted scenes in the "Unrated Edition."

I don't have a name yet for my filtered material. Feel free to submit your own suggestions. Winner gets absolutely nothing.

For the first installment, below are some notes and observations culled from the very first Marvin Ridge football practice Monday morning. I plan to follow up with notes from Weddington and Parkwood practices later...

-Coach Bruce Hardin attempted to set the tone early at the new school. After some of the young Mavericks failed to pay attention during semi-live drills at the end of practice, he yelled: "That’s a ragtag organization. That starts with me and that ends right now."...

-Some of the fundamentals Hardin addressed Monday: The proper depths for receivers to take on routes, how a quarterback should position his non-throwing shoulder on an out, and how to command a huddle. The Mavericks had five kids competing for the quarterback job, including one who moved here last week...

-Hardin on returning to high school coaching after three years as an Army assistant: "Friday nights -- there's nothing like it. It's like an extended family atmosphere. That's the fun part of being a high school coach. I kind of missed that."...

-The Mavericks need team managers and ballboys, Hardin said. After practice, he cleared the field, and spoke with a few parents and AD Tony Guylitto -- before meeting with a reporter and installing pads in helmets. "I need to be about six people," he joked...

The Mavericks staff, finally complete: Hardin (head coach and offensive coordinator), Mark Mennitt (defensive coordinator, LB), Frank Marcinko (OL), Kevin Hill (QB), Aaron Hammers (WR), Chris Morris (DB), Larry Shaheen (DL), Mike Mason (TE).

--Ryan Basen

Skill position? All of them are

It irritates me, and is insulting, when the term “skill position” is used in football. The phrase is common for players who throw, catch and run with the ball. It doesn’t include linemen, and that’s just not right.

You can’t convince me there isn’t “skill” involved with moving an onrushing lineman so a running back can zip through the hole. Or how about pass blocking for about four seconds? Or correctly timing a trap block, or a sweep?

No team can win consistently without good linemen. Plenty of good, skilled linemen. ...

Three Independence junior-varsity football players sprinted around mobile classroom 63 to reach opening day of practice Monday morning.

Player No. 1, at 8:25 a.m.: “Oh good, it was 8:30. We’re not late. I thought it was 8. They’re lined up by the fence.”

Player No. 2, to Player No. 3: “Are you a receiver?”

Player No. 3: “Receiver? I’m wearing (jersey) 94, what’s that tell you?”

Gotta love the new guys. ...

Kit Sitterley, who lives in Mooresville and attends Culver (Ind.) Academy, was named to the U.S. 17-under national hockey team. The U.S. team will play a tournament Aug. 20-24 in the Czech Republic against Slovakia, Germany, Switzerland and the host Czechs. ...

The golf-course green turf at Butler’s football practice fields is as thick as the humid air. Even carts driven by equipment managers don’t dent the grass. A sign near the water fountain reads “Dream Zone. Work At It." ...

Concord Robinson senior tackle R.J. Mattes is one of the state’s top linemen. Mattes, 6-foot-6 and 260 pounds, has narrowed his college choices to South Carolina, Clemson, N.C. State, Virginia and North Carolina.

His father, Ron Mattes (6-6, 300) played seven NFL seasons (1986-92) as an offensive tackle with the Seattle Seahawks, Chicago Bears and Indianapolis Colts.

- Cliff Mehrtens