APEX — Middle Creek’s football players, coaches and one special guest from Panther Creek gathered around Rashawn King at midfield for a special pregame ceremony as the Mustangs retired King’s No. 3 football jersey.
The guest was Sean Crocker, the Catamounts’ first-year coach who left Middle Creek after guiding the Mustangs for five years. Middle Creek officials decided they couldn’t honor King, who overcame a battle with leukemia two years ago to return as a senior in the 2011-12 school year, without Crocker present before the schools met Friday night in a Tri-Nine Conference game.
“That’s something I really appreciate,” said King, who is a freshman on the North Carolina Central basketball team and a business major. “He was my first coach when I came here and he has been through a lot with me. I’m glad he could be here.”
The football gods must have agreed this was a special night that shouldn’t be spoiled by a storm. The ceremony went off smoothly to loud applause from the crowd – which included King’s new teammates at NCCU – before lightning and rain moved in and forced the game to be suspended.
After a 45-minute delay, the decision was made to resume play at 1 p.m. Saturday at Middle Creek. When play was suspended, Middle Creek was leading 7-0 on an 8-yard pass from quarterback David Salmon to Jay Schuller just one minute, 24 seconds into the game.
The Mustangs (5-1 overall, 3-0 Tri-Nine) soon got the ball back when King Kiaku intercepted a pass at Panther Creek’s (1-5, 1-3 Tri-Nine) 34-yard line. Play was then suspended with 8:01 to play in the first period.
The night figured to be an emotional one for Crocker even before Middle Creek scheduled the ceremony for that night. In five seasons at Middle Creek, Crocker’s teams won three Tri-Nine titles (one outright and two shared), but he made the difficult decision to leave when the Panther Creek job opened up.
Crocker said he sees his family more now during football season with a shorter commute from home to the Panther Creek campus. At Middle Creek, his young daughters were often asleep when he got home and still asleep when he left in the morning. He said he misses his old players, but also likes his current team’s future despite the 1-5 start.
“We’ve got a good group of kids here,” Crocker said. “We’re going to keep trying to get it going the rest of the year and then we have a strong junior class coming back next year.”
And even though Crocker left Middle Creek, he has contributed to the Mustangs’ success, according to new Middle Creek coach Mike Castellano.
“When I got the job he sent me an email and said if I wanted to talk he would be glad to,” Castellano said. “He told me a lot about the school climate and the players I was inheriting. That helped me a lot to settle in. That’s something he didn’t have to do.”