After working so hard to win last year’s NCHSAA 3AA state championship, Southern Durham doesn’t mind that everyone has targeted the Spartans in 2014.
In fact, the Spartans welcome it, says first-year Southern head coach Darius Robinson.
“People talk about pressure. But that’s just made us focus more on what’s important,” Robinson said before a recent practice. “It’s not important what everyone says. What’s important is working hard and preparing for each game, one at a time.”
Southern didn’t lose a lot of numbers from its 14-2 championship team, but many coaches would fret about graduating significant starters like Associated Press all-state wide receiver Maurice Trowell (N.C. State) or bookend receiver Derrick Mason (N.C. Central) – each of whom caught passes for more than 1,000 yards last year. Also, former Spartans coach Adrian Jones now coaches running backs at N.C. Central.
Still, more Spartans are back than are gone. Southern returns nine starters on defense and seven on offense from a team that went 10-0 against Big Eight Conference opponents, beating three for a second time in the playoffs.
Southern’s hopes for a repeat run in the post-season center on senior quarterback Kendall Hinton.
Hinton, who committed to Wake Forest, passed for 4,159 yards and 40 touchdowns last year, with just eight interceptions, making him one of the most productive and most efficient quarterbacks in the state. He also rushed for 1,183 yards and 13 touchdowns.
More than 5,200 total yards of offense and 53 touchdowns would be a good season for most teams, let alone an individual.
“We have the best quarterback in the state. I feel he’s one of the best in the nation,” Robinson said.
“Kendall is blessed with so much talent. He’s going to win championships for you at whatever level of football he’s playing.”
One of the best things about inheriting a player like Hinton, Robinson said, was his big-game experience. That applies to other Spartans as well.
Senior all-purpose back William Cameron also is back. After managing to get about 60 yards a game rushing and 15 a game receiving when Hinton or Trowell didn’t have the ball, Cameron still made the Big Eight’s all-conference team and was recruited by Duke, North Carolina and N.C. State but committed to West Virginia late last year.
Junior running backs Toney Bass and Jordan Brown will see more playing time this year, Robinson said.
The offense got a gift over the summer with the transfer of senior Aaron Hirsch, one of Chapel Hill’s top receivers last year. “He fits right in,” Robinson said.
Despite the talent among Southern’s playmakers, “the defense is ahead of the offense right now,” Robinson said. “They’re so experienced. They’ve learned how to handle pressure situations. They know how to make the right decisions, and they’re used to making the deciding play in big games.”
Three of four starters from the defensive backfield are returning: all-conference safety Marvin Tillman, all-conference cornerback Jeremy Griffis and Kaleb Barfield.
All-conference defensive end Tahj Spivey (6-1, 315) returns, along withdefensive linemen Montreal Cherry (6-2, 230) and Christian Howze (5-9, 255). End/linebacker JaJuan Gavin and tackle Tyler Herbert will help solidify the line.
The biggest holes to fill will be on the offensive line. The Spartans still have all-conference Eric Allen (6-2, 275) and Howze. Like Howze, sophomore Bobby Fuller (6-2, 255) is expected to help out on both sides of the ball.
Southern has so many lettermen coming back, Robinson said he’s not surprised the Spartans are a favorite in 2014.
“Our players still have a chip on their shoulder,” he said. “They’re still hungry. They are one of the hungriest teams ever to come through Durham. They want to win another championship.”