Not many football teams could lose 16 starters – all 16 headed for college programs – and expect to contend for a conference championship.
But Southern Durham, the state’s No. 1-ranked 3A team most of last year, still has a fairly full cupboard, despite the graduation of all-conference players such as quarterback Kendall Hinton, running back William Cameron and linebacker Tahj Spivey.
“Here at Southern Durham, we always have lots of varsity athletes waiting for their turn,” said Darius Robinson, Southern’s athletics director and football coach. “We’re better off this year than I might have thought.”
Southern had more than 100 players listed on its final roster last season. The Spartans have more than 50 lettermen returning – including 25 juniors and 25 seniors.
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“We have a lot of players who had their reps on the field; they’re ready,” Robinson said. “They were following good leaders at their position. They learned, and now it’s their turn.”
Having led Southern to a state 3AA championship in 2013, Hinton was the undisputed leader of the last year’s 13-1 team that went undefeated until it lost a third-round playoff game at home to Big 8 Conference rival Chapel Hill. But rising senior running back Jordon Brown wasn’t far behind.
Verbally committed to North Carolina, Brown rushed for 919 yards and 16 touchdowns, and he caught 34 passes for 523 yards and 8 touchdowns, making him Southern’s top offensive threat returning this year.
Robinson can tick off the names of three more backs he expects to produce in 2015: senior Taron Thomas and juniors Myron Frazier and Joey Strong.
Junior Jalen Greene will take over at quarterback after appearing late in three games last year. He has seven potential receivers who caught at least one pass.
“We have a lot skill guys at receiver and backfield,” Robinson said. “How Jalen develops as a leader at quarterback will be key.”
Robinson noted Greene helped Southern win seven of the eight 7-on7 passing tournaments it entered in this summer.
“That’s a first for us. We’ve always done well in the past, but this is the first time we’ve won more than one event in the summer,” Robinson said.
Southern requires the most rebuilding on defense, where cornerback Kaleb Barfield is the lone returning starter. Barfield was named all-conference “at large” on defense, and that’s how Robinson plans on using him this season
“Kaleb is our athlete. He can play anywhere on the field,” Robinson said. “He might be on the field the whole game.”
Offense: Spread, pistol.
Contributors: RB Jordon Brown; QB Jalen Greene; WR/CB Kaleb Barfield; RB Myron Frazier Jr.; OG/DT Brian Williams; OG Derek McDuffie; RB/WR Taron Thomas; WR Jordan Mackins; FS Montrell Cooper; LB/DE Roosevelt Holding; DE Tyrike Burrus; DT Bobby Fuller.
Expected strength: Backs and receivers.
Question mark: Who will replace placekicker and punter Leo Orozco?
Player they’ll miss the most: QB Kendall Hinton. Now at Wake Forest University, his leadership skills matched his playing abilities.
The main number: 50 – the numbers of juniors and seniors returning with game experience.
The quote: Robinson: “The kids know that it’s ‘next man up.’ We want all the young players to understand ‘It’s your turn. Don’t be afraid to step up and lead.’”
Game to watch: Oct. 9 at Chapel Hill. This rematch from last year’s playoffs could decide the Big 8 championship.
Past five years
2014: 13-1, 7-1 (3AA 3rd round)
2013: 14-2, 7-0 (3AA champion)
2012: 6-5, 5-1 (4A 1st round)
2011: 7-4, 5-1 (4A 1st round)
2010: 6-7, 5-1 (4A 2nd round)