As good as Southern Durham was last year, this year’s Spartans team could be even better – more experienced and deeper.
“We lost some good players last year, but we were junior-heavy,” Southern head coach Darius Robinson said as his boisterous team prepped for a preseason scrimmage. “This year, we’ll have 17 starters back.”
Southern has never failed to finish No. 1 in the Big 8 Conference since it was formed in 2013. The Spartans were 12-4 (5-1 in the Big 8) after appearing in last year’s 3AA state championship game, but last year’s Big 8 title – and last five wins – were forfeited due to fielding a player whose participation was based on an physical exam form that expired in late-season.
Robinson said he accepted responsibility for failing to notice the oversight, but it did little to diminish his players’ belief that they were the best team in the Big 8.
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“After I saw the way our guys responded when I told them, I’m really encouraged about what we can do this year,” he said.
How deep is Southern?
The 2016 Spartans are missing some top-flight players – like running back Jordon Brown (North Carolina), multi-position standout Kaleb Barfield (Campbell) and 2015 Big-8 Defensive Player of the Year Jaleel Scoggins – but Robinson said the Spartans still are loaded for bear.
Returning veterans start with all-conference quarterback Jalen Greene and a set of all-conference defenders like tackle Bobby Fuller, middle linebacker Andre Purvis, end Ezekial Jennette.
What needs to be done for improvement?
Nothing drives a coach crazier than unforced errors, and nothing hurt Southern more last year than self-inflicted wounds.
Three of Southern’s losses on the field last year were by two points or less. In each case, Robinson said, a silly mistake cost the Spartans the win.
“Offsides, holding. They hurt us,” he said, adding a major team goal for 2016 is to reduce the ratio of plays without-with mistakes to 80-20 by midseason and 95-5 by the end of the conference season.
Can Southern get back to the 3AA state finals?
In a word – yes.
The Spartans know the drill: finish the year strong, respect each opponent, win one game at a time and stay healthy.
Southern will prep for its conference schedule by playing four 4A teams, all of which reached the playoffs last year. The Spartans play at Hillside on Sept. 2 and host former and future conference rival Northern on Sept. 16, then open their conference season by hosting Orange on Sept. 23.
“If we can make it through a tough conference ... I do believe we can get back there to the final and win it,” Robinson said. “Our last time there left a bad taste in our mouth, and we want to do something about that.”
More on the Spartans
Last year: 7-9 (5-1 Big 8 3A),* 3AA state championship runner-up
Five year average: 9-4 (6-1)
Preseason N&O rank: No. 7
Offense: Spread, Pistol
Coaches: Darius Robinson (head coach, 3rd year); Anthony Creecy (off. coordinator); Gary Lanier (def. coordinator); Robert Duncan (OL); Tony Gill (RB/JV head coach); Randy Grissom (WR); Brandon Hampton (DL); William Jennette (DL); Justin Paige (tech, video); Andre Purvis (DL); Seth Reavis (kickers); Joey Strong Sr. (LBs); Dominique Tatum (DBs); Daniel Thomas (defense/JV asst.); Jason Staples (QBs); Larfue Williams (OL).
Returning Contributors: Tyriq Burris (Sr., HB/DE); Montrel Cooper (Sr., WR/DB/SS); Bobby Fuller (Sr., DT/OT); Jalen Green (Sr., QB); Robert Jackson (Sr., CB); Ezekial Jennette (Sr., DE); Marcus McDonald (Sr., WR); Andre Purvis Jr. (Sr., MLB/DE); Brian Williams (Sr., OL).
The main number: 2 - appearances in an NCHSAA championship final in 3 years.
*-Was 12-4 before forfeits
Aug. 19 vs. E.E. Smith, 7 p.m.
Aug. 26 OPEN DATE
Sep. 2 at Hillside, 7p.m.
Sep. 9 vs. Wakefield, 7 p.m.
Sep. 16 vs. Northern, 7 p.m.
Sep. 23* vs. Orange, 7 p.m.
Sep. 30* vs. Northern Vance, 7 p.m.
Oct. 7* at Chapel Hill, 7 p.m.
Oct. 14 OPEN DATE
Oct. 21* at Northwood7 p.m.
Oct. 28* at Cedar Ridge, 7 p.m.
Nov. 4* vs. Webb, 7 p.m.
Note: *Conference game.