RED SPRINGS — In August, Jerome Bass set a goal to eclipse 100 tackles as a senior defensive player for the Red Springs football team.
The 6-foot-1, 240-pound linebacker accomplished that feat in the eighth game of the season en route to logging 160 tackles to lead the Three Rivers Conference.
“I had a goal and I set out to do it,” said Bass, who was named the league’s defensive player of the year.
“It feels good to accomplish it and prove a point to everybody.”
Bass averaged 12.7 tackles per game, tallying 10 or more tackles in 10 of Red Springs’ 13 games. He finished the season with 19 tackles for loss, six sacks, five forced fumbles and one interception.
A terror on the defensive side of the ball, Bass also did his part to help the Red Devils get in the end zone. He scored 11 touchdowns as a running back and tight end, logging two touchdowns in Red Springs’ 19-7 playoff win over Salisbury.
The overall production made Bass the clear choice for the county’s Heisman award, given to the top overall player each season.
Bass said “being persistent” helped him reach his goal of living up to the hype as the county’s top player entering the year.
“Working with the coaching staff and the team that we had this year, (Red Springs assistant) Coach (Robert) Dove and everyone really helped out a lot in coming up with a scheme to help me to perform to my best abilities,” he said.
Lawrence Ches, who has been on staff with the Red Devils for each of Bass’s four years, has seen the work Bass has put in each offseason.
“Jerome Bass has grown from an offensive lineman in his freshman season to be one of the most dominant players in the county for the past two seasons,” Ches said.
“He’s this team’s leader in action and voice. His heart and character is second to none and I can say it has been a pleasure to influence this young man.”
Bass said he has “a few schools looking at me” as graduation approaches.
“UNCP has been in contact with me, Campbell has been in contact,” he said. “I got an offer from (the University of) Jamestown in North Dakota and a few other schools.”
While Bass capped his stellar prep career with the county’s top honor, Ches earned coach of the year honors and sophomore running back Lee McLean was named the county’s most improved player.
McLean, who played sparingly in his rookie season and finished with one touchdown, thrived in his new role as the feature back for the Red Devils.
The sophomore rushed for 1,562 yards and 14 touchdowns, averaging 137.6 rushing yards per game and 6.3 yards per carry.
“I’m proud of myself,” McLean said. “A lot of people didn’t think I would be able to do it. It feels good to prove those people wrong. My coaches and my teammates were pushing me. They never gave up on me.”
Despite dealing with multiple nagging injuries throughout the season, McLean had eight games with 100 or more rushing yards, including a season-high 220 yards against St. Pauls.
“I just had to keep going and not think about,” he said of dealing with the injuries. “I just had to keep doing it.”
Ches said McLean was the county’s “best kept secret prior to the season.”
“He has done nothing but work tirelessly to become one of, if not the best, backs in the county as a sophomore,” Ches said.
“A humble young man who silently excels and will continue to, he is no longer a secret and I know he will be up to the challenge when everyone keys on him next season.”
In his first year as head coach of the Red Devils, Ches led the squad to a 9-4 record, including a 6-3 mark in conference play to finish second behind tri-champions East Bladen, Whiteville and South Columbus.
He also helped the program earn its first playoff win since 2012.
Bass said Ches’s “patience” was vital to the team’s growth this season.
“He never gave up on us,” Bass said. “Even after everyone doubted us and tried to put us down, in his mind he had a goal and we set out to get that goal.”
For Ches, it was the culmination of a journey that began as an assistant when he first arrived on campus.
“This group of seniors is the first group of players I have coached from their freshman season through their senior season,” he said.
“This team will always be special to me. For this group of seniors to be my first group of seniors, in my first season as a head coach, only adds meaning for me personally. Seeing them grow into young men has been a privilege.”
Rodd Baxley can be reached at 910-416-5182 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @RoddBaxley.