Last year, the South Stokes football team made school history. The Sauras won their first football playoff game ever, defeating Lake Norman Charter, 35-26.
With 18 seniors on his current roster, head coach Jonathan Frasher has good reason to feel confident about his team’s chances of making a deep run in the state 1A playoffs this fall. But the Sauras have already faced a good deal of adversity and the regular season doesn’t begin until Friday night.
On Aug. 11, Frasher announced that senior quarterback Danny Smith had been lost for the season due to a stress fracture in his lower back. Frasher also confirmed that Jaron Withers, a standout on last year’s squad, had transferred to another school over the summer.
“We’re not the deepest team, especially at [the quarterback] position,” Frasher said. “Anytime you lose your starting quarterback, that hurts. [Junior] J.J. Davis has stepped up and done a good job. We’re just trying to keep him safe and keep him from injury.”
Frasher said Davis will start under center when the Sauras travel to West Wilkes for their season opener Friday night. Game time is set for 7:30 p.m.
Despite the setbacks, Frasher said he feels optimistic the Sauras can take the next step in their quest to become an elite football team. Frasher derives his optimism from the leadership displayed by South’s seniors, including All-State linebacker Zack Singleton.
“It’s not just Zack — Justin Rogers, he’s a little quieter than Zack but he does the same thing,” Frasher said. “Danny Smith, even though he’s done for the year, he’s like that. Aaron Pentasuglia — he’s a spark plug. He’s a captain and all of my captains are like that. I’m going to rely on all of them.”
Upon hearing the news of Smith’s injury, Singleton said he and the other team captains wouldn’t allow their teammates to hang their heads. Instead, South’s players have made a collective decision to rally around their fallen teammate.
“Our motto is ‘Do it for [No.] 2,’” Singleton said. “Every time I feel tired and feel like quitting and taking a play off, I think about what [Smith] would do. He’d get back up, be right behind me and keep pushing me. That’s one of the things that’s motivating me this year and it’s motivating this team.”
Singleton said Frasher’s positive influence on the team can be felt at every drill in practice, every weight room session, and every voluntary summer workout.
“Coach Frasher has taught us how to take it game by game,” Singleton said. “We know the main priority right now is West Wilkes — that’s the only game that’s really guaranteed to us right now. That’s the only game we’re focused on as a team.”
And it will take laser-like focus if South Stokes hopes to nail down Frasher’s offensive and defensive schemes while getting enough work on fundamentals in its abbreviated fall practice schedule.
“We have the shortest preseason of any of the football preseasons,” Frasher observed. “We basically get two weeks to get ready for the first game. The pros play [four] preseason games and they’re professionals. College [teams] get a month [to prepare]. I wish we had a lot longer.”
Despite the time crunch, Frasher said South’s players are making steady progress.
“We’re going to drill the fundamentals every day and the concepts — I think they’ve picked them up every day,” he said. “We’re always going to have adjustments to make, but our next step is going up to West Wilkes and getting a W.”
Singleton said he believes this year’s team can exceed everyone’s expectations.
“This year’s team is a lot different than the past couple of years,” he said. “Last year, we had a couple of [seniors] who led by example but we didn’t have vocal leadership. This year, we have vocal leaders. In practice, we’re always getting on [teammates] trying to push them to go forward in practice.”
South’s players are now holding one another accountable for their actions, and that phenomenon did not begin on the first day of fall practice, Singleton said. For example, South’s offseason workout sessions had unparalleled participation.
“The energy in the weightroom was amazing — the bar did not stop moving and that was one of our goals,” Singleton said.
The next step for South Stokes is to defeat West Wilkes, but transforming the program, the school and the community is the ultimate goal, Singleton said.
“We’ve been trying to change the attitude around the school,” he said. “At this school and around the world, everyone settles for average and that’s what we’re trying to change. We’re trying to achieve more than what we thought we could — trying to push more, be above average and be great. You’ve got to do the little things to be great and that’s one of the things we’re trying to change as a program, as a school, as a community.”