Stepping onto the turf for the five-team 7-on-7 camp were a bunch of players whose stature is normally reserved for underclassmen trying to make a name for themselves on the junior varsity.
Only this was Rowland’s lineup for Friday nights.
Upon further inspection nearly three hours later, it’s hard to fathom how this group — bludgeoned by attrition and a lack of chemistry — has lost 20 games over the last two seasons. This Mustangs team held their own against preseason favorite Red Springs, scored a couple touchdowns against West Bladen and went toe-to-toe with Hoke County, a member of the 4A Southeastern Conference.
Leading the impressive showing and line of players off the bus was Daquinn Lindsay, a slender 5-foot-9 quarterback with mini dreads popping out the back of his helmet. Against Red Springs and West Bladen, Lindsay showed no fear throwing into coverage and displayed an ability to locate open receivers through tight passing lanes.
He’s not very big, but he has an accurate arm with good feet.
The man in the straw hat, first-year coach Stephen Roberson, thinks Lindsey along with a strong offensive line can steer South Robeson’s misfortune in the right direction.
“I think we’ll surprise some people,” he said. “We’ve got some players. If we can all get on the same page and get our offensive line to a dominant point, we should be OK.”
To borrow a phrase commonly used by South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier, Roberson seems to be good at “coaching them up”, at least early on. Second only to Lumberton's Mike Brill, Roberson was the most vocal leader at Hoke Thursday, shouting instructions to individuals after dropped passes and near-miss interceptions.
South Robeson won’t scare anyone away with size and strength, but the Mustangs — unlike the last few seasons in Rowland — should be able to match the opposition’s speed based on what they've shown at scrimmages this summer. The current 15-game losing skid that stretches back to September 2010 will end this season.
“They look like a decent football team,” Robeson County A.D. Jason Suggs said Thursday. “They’ve got some guys that can may plays from what I’ve seen. I know what kind of athletes in middle school they’ve got down there. I think it’s surprising to everyone for that program to struggle as much as they have.”
The problem has been South Robeson's offense, a unit that has been stuck in neutral and hasn't found a rhythm in recent years. The Mustangs were especially stagnant in the second half of 2011, scoring just six touchdowns in the Three Rivers Conference. At times, South Robeson accumulated more penalties and turnovers than first downs and barely had enough players dress for kickoff.
They were shut out three times and scored in single digits on three other occasions. To put it bluntly, when the Mustangs had possession, it was painful to watch.
“With the guys we got, especially Daquinn, we should be able to score more than six points a game,” Roberson said. “We’ll be in the I (formation), so we certainly classify ourselves as a run-first team. But I think we’ve got a guy that can throw and we’ll definitely use that in the game plan.”
Roberson says Lindsay will continue to develop with more reps in Taurus Baker’s I-Formation scheme, but the Mustangs don’t want to overuse one of their only quarterbacks on the roster. Limiting Lindsay’s plays on the move is important as well as establishing continuity on that side of the football.
"He’s fast and he can run, but we aren’t trying to get him hurt," Roberson said.
South Robeson opens at home against Western Harnett in three weeks, certainly a winnable game by most accounts. Roberson's a traditionalist, so the "one game at a time" approach is commonplace amongst his coaching staff and program. Taking each obstacle on a week-by-week basis is likely the best plan for this young but talented group.
The Mustangs are picked to finish last in the conference this season, but based on what I’ve seen in July, they won’t go down without a fight.