A rough season for four of Robeson County’s five high school football teams got even rougher Friday as the season hit the midway mark.
While St. Pauls cruised to victory at Red Springs, the county’s other four teams — Red Springs, Fairmont, Lumberton and Purnell Swett — combined to score precisely zero points.
But instead of writing more about these teams’ struggles — about which I’ve already written plenty — there is another way to look at this. Even in the midst of struggles, there are still always bright spots.
And indeed, the four sub-.500 teams in Robeson County still have some good players having breakout seasons. Here’s a look at some of those standouts from each team.
While Fairmont’s offense has been hit and miss at times, one player has been a constant all season as the Golden Tornadoes’ biggest outside threat. Travelius Leach has caught 20 passes for 192 yards and has caught both of the team’s passing touchdowns so far this season.
“I think Travelius has close to as many receiving yards as anybody on our team did last year,” Fairmont coach Lonnie Cox said. “Anytime he gets the ball in his hands, he’s got a chance to do something special with it.”
The junior wideout also returns kicks for the Golden Tornadoes and is a “smart” player, Cox said.
“I think he understands what it is we’re trying to do, and I think he’s got great field vision,” Cox said. “I think when he catches the football, I think he can get yards after the catch because his vision is so good. He’s just a really good athlete.”
Quarterback Gabriel Washington and defensive back/wide receiver Tyrek Thompson are also having strong individual seasons for Fairmont.
Junior defensive end Nakoma Scott has emerged as an elite performer at defensive end for the Pirates, totaling 27 tackles, eight tackles for loss and six sacks this season, including an 11-tackle game with six tackles for loss last week at Jack Britt. He has forced five fumbles and recovered two this season.
“He’s a guy that we had to challenge him at the beginning of the year, and he’s taken the bull by the horns and developed,” Lumberton coach Adam Deese said. “He’s been a bright spot. He’s been a good focal point on the defensive side of the ball.”
Scott’s breakout season comes as he has listened to the coaching staff, Deese said, and executed those lessons during gameplay.
“He’s accepting coaching,” Deese said. “He’s bought in, and he has a motor that is nonstop. He’s starting to get the technique down, and he’s really focused on developing and what he can do for this team. That’s a big plus.”
Michael Pitts, who plays at running back and slot receiver on offense and at middle linebacker on defense, is another key performer for the Pirates.
A tandem of tackles on the interior defensive line for Purnell Swett have keyed the Rams’ improvement this season. Seniors Nakota Locklear and Jacobi Chavis have emerged as leaders, both on and off the field.
“They put in the work in the offseason; both have gotten in a lot better condition, stronger, faster,” Purnell Swett coach Stephen Roberson said. “Being seniors, they know it’s their team, and they take pride in being the leaders. And their performance and their play has been a major indicator of that.”
Both players have totaled 28 tackles through five games; Chavis has eight tackles for loss and 0.5 sacks, while Locklear has six tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks.
“They’ve been extremely stout against the run all year,” Roberson said. “I think our defense has played pretty well, and it starts up from with them. They get push, no matter who the opponent is, and they’re our team leaders, physically and emotionally.”
If you’ve seen any snap of a Red Springs game this season, you’ve seen Jaydon Hammonds on the field for the Red Devils. The junior plays nearly every snap at middle linebacker and as a guard on the offensive line.
“He doesn’t come off the field. He’s got himself into shape where he knows he’s expected to play every down, or a majority of the downs, and he’s performing well on both sides of the ball,” Red Springs coach Tim Ray said. “He’s our captain on defense, and he’s probably pound-for-pound our best O-lineman, and he’s our smallest O-lineman.”
Ray recalls an in-game conversation with Hammonds, who has made 23 tackles this season, with 21 seconds remaining in the Wilson Prep game; Hammonds wanted a breather, as he had not come off the field all night, but agreed to give Ray what he had left for the remaining few snaps.
“He’s tough, man, he’s a tough kid. He’s a strong kid, he’s our leader,” Ray said. “He’s always saying the right things and doing the right things. It’s bigger than going on the field, he’s always doing the right thing for us too.”
Red Springs has other two-way players also playing key roles: wide receiver/quarterback/defensive back Jamey Tedder, offensive guard/defensive tackle Tim Hammonds and wide receiver/running back/defensive back T.J. Ellerbe. Running back/wide receiver Curtis Wilson is also having a good campaign.
St. Pauls, which sits 4-1 overall and 2-0 in Southeastern Athletic Conference play, has many standout players on its roster. But most of them have come up through the ranks of middle school and JV football. Not Will Brooks.
The senior defensive end/tight end hasn’t played football in several years, but has been a key contributor, particularly defensively, for the Bulldogs.
“(He has) tenacity,” St. Pauls coach Mike Setzer said. “The kid brings a set of morals and values with him that is immediate leadership. That in itself is just some intangibles that you can’t put your finger on. He’s such a leader, a great spirit to hang around.”
The reigning Robeson County Player of the Year in baseball, Brooks’ athletic ability was well-known. Even still, Setzer wasn’t sure how “accustomed” he would be to football conditioning when it began during the offseason, but “he showed our guys out.”
“He doesn’t have an off button once he gets started. He’s not a diesel engine; he doesn’t take all day to get started. He’s like a jet pack; you cut his button on, he’s ready to go all night.”
Other breakout performers for the Bulldogs include defensive back/wide receiver Chris Bryant, quarterback Theophilus Setzer, offensive lineman Dylan Britt, fullback/defensive tackle/linebacker James Holmes and linebacker/fullback Trejon McBryde.
Chris Stiles can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at c[email protected]. You can follow him on Twitter at @StilesOnSports.