Sunday, August 7, 2011

The 2011 Preseason Sweet 16 Football Poll: No. 9 South Point

Note: Continuing a series of Sweet 16 countdown profiles with No. 9 South Point. No. 8 will be announced at 3 p.m. Monday and in Tuesday's print editions.

By David Scott

Mickey Lineberger has been part of Belmont South Point High athletics for decades.
This season, Lineberger – a former Red Raiders player, long-time athletics director, baseball coach and football assistant – takes over as South Point’s head football coach.

“It’s really not a whole lot different for me,” said Lineberger. “There are high expectations for us, but that’s something we’re used to here.”

The Red Raiders are perennially one of North Carolina’s top 3A programs, winning state championships in 2003 and 2009. Last season – with Lineberger serving as offensive coordinator under head coach John Devine (who left for Clover, S.C.) – South Point went 9-4, won the Big South 3A and played an epic second-round playoff game against Asheville Erwin, losing 57-56 in overtime.

With 17 starters back, the Red Raiders have designs on going further than that this season.

With Lineberger still serving as offensive coordinator, Red Raiders will play their familiar “Red Bone” offense, modeled after Georgia Tech’s triple-option. Senior quarterback Patrick Horne has the experience to run things smoothly.

“He’s really improved and his best game last season was that playoff loss to Erwin,” said Lineberger. “We think he’s going to pick up where he left off.”

Senior fullback Troy Leeper led the team in rushing last season and sophomore Tyler Bray will be one of the team’s top newcomers.

The offensive line, while not very big, will again be effective. Center Jordan Kagen (218 pounds) and tackle Jeffrey Lawing (235) were both all conference last season.

“We’re not really big, but we don’t ask our kids to do things they can’t do,” said Lineberger. “When we won the state championship in 2009, we averaged 185 pounds across the line and we did just fine.”

Then there’s the offensive playmaker, senior Justus Watkins, a 6-foot-1, 185-pound split end.

“He has really looked good so far,” said Lineberger.

Defensively, South Point’s top players will be linebacker Jordan Forney (the team’s leading tackler in 2010), safety Ramon Costner (who had six interceptions) and corner Jalen Porter. Noseguard Payton Flowers (6-2, 250)

“We know we’ve got to improve our defense,” Lineberger said. “But we’ve got the coaches and players to do it.”

Many of the Red Raiders’ seniors were sophomores on South Point’s ’09 state championship team. Most of the coaching staff – with the notable exception of Devine – is still with the program.

Lineberger graduated from South Point in 1972 and – after attending college at Carson-Newman and then coaching at Forest City Chase High – has been at his alma mater since 1984.

“There really and truly hasn’t been much reason to change things around much here,” said Lineberger of his new job. “We’ve still got the (coaching) staff to run things the way they should be run. I’m going to let them coach, let them do their thing. And the players know what’s expected of them.”

South Point’s first game? At home against Clover and former coach Devine on Aug. 19.

South Point Overview
Last year:
9-4, 6-0 Big South 3A (lost in second round of 3A playoffs to Asheville Erwin 57-56 in overtime).
What’s new: Coach Mickey Lineberger is in his first season in charge of the program. He’s a South Point lifer, though, having played for the Red Raiders and serving as the school’s baseball coach and athletics director for several years. He’d been an assistant football coach since 1983.
Three to watch:
OT Jeffrey Lawing, 6-3, 235, Sr.: Three-time all-conference player anchors strong offensive line.
WR/DB Justus Watkins, 6-1, 180, Sr.: Probably Red Raiders’ most talented offensive player, has game-breaking ability.
RB Devin Robbins, 5-11, 170, Jr.: Also a kick returner, has been timed close to 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
Bet you didn’t know: Watkins won the long jump at the N.C. 3A track meet last spring.
Preview analysis: The sting of that playoff loss to Erwin is still fresh at South Point, which was hoping last season to repeat as N.C. 3A champ. The offensive is experienced and talented, led by QB Patrick Horne and Watkins. The defense gets back LB Jordan Forney -- who missed the end of last season after breaking his ankle. The Red Raiders should be among the Big South 3A’s best again -- and could make a deep run in the playoffs. -- David Scott
Schedule: Aug. 19, Clover (S.C.); 26, at Lincolnton. Sept. 2, East Gaston; 9, Lawndale Burns; 16, Kings Mountain; 23, at Gastonia Huss; 30, Gastonia Ashbrook. Oct. 7, at Gastonia Forestview; 14, Open; 21, at North Gaston; 28, Boiling Springs Crest.