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Signing day being a flip and a Saintly haul

Six KC seniors ink National Letters of Intent

Posted: February 2, 2017 3:01 p.m.
Updated: February 3, 2017 1:00 a.m.
Tom Didato/C-I

Six high school seniors signed National Letters of Intent for football Wednesday at the school district's offices in Camden. The players and high schools/college choices are, from left, Elliott Campbell (Lugoff-Elgin/Wofford), Cedrick Cunningham (North Central/Army), Rahmel Burton (Lugoff-Elgin/Limestone), Adam Rowson (Lugoff-Elgin/Catawba), Jo Jo Watson (Camden/Limestone) and William Cobb (Camden/Limestone). Standing, from left, are, NCHS Principal David Branham, NCHS football coach Louis Clyburn, CHS football coach Jimmy Neal, L-EHS football coach Matt Campbell and L-EHS Principal Worth Thomasson.

Surprises and signing day go hand-in-hand. For one reason or another, a high school senior who has been committed to one school can be flipped to another while others hold their ground.

Lugoff-Elgin offensive lineman Elliott Campbell, who had been committed to Furman since last summer, ended up signing with Wofford on Wednesday in a move which he announced on his social media account over this past weekend. The decision came in the wake of a coaching change with the Paladins.

Another Kershaw County player, North Central defensive back/running back Cedrick Cunningham, stayed the course as he signed with the United States Military Academy in West Point after having heard that other schools had asked for copies of his transcript in the event that any other program was looking to add to their signing class.

Those were two of the six storylines involving players from the three county public schools who took part in a ceremonial signing Wednesday morning. The sextet included three players --- Camden’s William Cobb and Jo Jo Watson and L-E’s Rahmel Burton --- casting their lot with Limestone College while L-E’s Adam Rowson made good on his pledge by signing with Catawba College on the first day eligible high school seniors could sign National Letters of Intent with colleges.

Terriers jump on chance to get Campbell

There are hundreds of recruiting tales which involve one party or another deciding to go their separate ways. Elliott Campbell probably never imagined his name would be added that that extensive list.

Campbell chose and committed to then-Furman head coach Bruce Fowler last July. When Fowler was replaced by Clay Hendrix and his staff, things started to come unraveled for Campbell, a four-year starter who was moved from tight end to offensive tackle for his senior season by Demon head coach Matt Campbell. Interestingly, it was the same move Matt Campbell made when he went from playing tight end at USC to becoming an eight-year offensive lineman in the NFL.

Even though Furman had a new head coach and assistants on board, Elliott Campbell could never had predicted what was to come his way.

Campbell was recruited by Fowler’s staff as a tight end. When meeting with a member of Hendrix’s staff, the 6-foot-6, 265-pound Campbell learned that had all changed.

“The (Furman) coaches kind of did a few things my coaches and I didn’t agree with,” Campbell said of the decision to re-open his recruitment. “They met me one day and they talked about my National Letter of Intent and made sure I knew how to sign it and everything … the correct way. In the process, they told me that I would be playing offensive line. It was the assistant coach that told me that, it wasn’t the head coach.

“We felt that it wasn’t a great thing that the head coach didn’t take the time to call down himself.”

That same day, Campbell said, he asked the coach if it would be all right with Furman University, its coaching staff and the assistant coach he was dealing with, if he could take an official visit to Eastern Kentucky University, which was one of Campbell’s original list of finalists. After being given the blessing by all parties concerned, Campbell traveled to the EKU campus in Richmond. Upon arrival there, he received a text message from a Paladin coach.

“They said they were going to offer my scholarship to somebody else since I went on an official visit,” he said of what was included in the text. “That kind of did it for me and my family so, I decided to de-commit. I had seven other options.

“I love Furman but it just wasn’t the right fit for me anymore.”

Following that decision, Campbell re-opened his recruitment and gave long looks to the other three schools on his final list; Wofford and the University of Richmond. It was not a hard choice, Campbell said of his decision to stay in the Upstate and sign with Mike Ayers’ Terriers.

Following his initial commitment to Furman, the Wofford coaching staff respected Campbell’s decision and backed off him. When he hit the open market again, the Southern Conference entry was waiting with open arms to try and secure the North-South All-Star game players.

“As soon as I de-committed from Furman,” Campbell said, “(Wofford) was right back on me. That won me over, right there.”

Campbell expects to play along the interior line for the Terriers who run the triple-option offense. Given his athletic ability --- he is a member of the L-E basketball team and also played baseball through his sophomore season --- Campbell should fit in well with what Wofford likes to do on offense.

“They like faster and more athletic linemen. My idea is that I’ll redshirt next year, get stronger and gain a little weight,” he said. “I’m 260 (pounds), right now, I’d imagine they’re probably going to want me at 285 to 290.”

Wofford shares similar physical and academic traits with Furman, which appealed to Campbell.

“It’s a lot like Furman,” Campbell said. “It’s a small college but it’s very, very nice and it’s very prestigious in the academic world. The football program is very good, too. It’s an all-around great decision.”

Getting his marching orders

After giving his verbal pledge to Army in October, Cedrick Cunningham sustained an injury to his right arm which shelved him for nearly half of North Central’s season. During that time, he was also one of five finalists for South Carolina’s Mr. Football award while being named to play in the North-South All-Star game.

While all this was going on around him, the 6-foot, 200-pound Cunningham watched as larger Division I schools handed out offers like a Good Humor man dispenses ice cream to yelling children on a 95-degree day. None, however, came the way of the three-year starter who still managed to rush for 1,036 yards with 12 touchdowns while missing the better part of three games for the Knights.

As signing day drew closer, a Florida State University assistant coach paid a visit to Boonetown and inquired as to Cunningham possibly taking a look at the Seminole program should they had needed another safety. In the past several days, Clemson, South Carolina and Stanford, among others, asked for copies of Cunningham’s transcript as a possible fallback candidate.

Nothing could deter Cunningham from signing with Army. “I just felt like West Point was for me,” he said.

Having been part of West Point football lore for all of a few hours, Cunningham talked with pride about having watched the Cadets beat arch-rival Navy on television in December. 

“I was watching it, of course,” he said with a smile. “It was crazy. I was just so excited to see the tide turn after 14 years of not beating (Navy.)”

Admitting that his signing had yet to sink in while adding that he was ready to begin a new chapter in his life, Cunningham said he is prepared to head to West Point for basic training come July with the rest of the incoming class of cadets.

“The military stuff is going to be a little challenging. I think it’s going to be the toughest part for me,” he said of the experiences which await him on the banks of the Hudson River. “They tell us, straight-up, how it’s going to be and they give us things that we can do to prepare for it. They recruit guys who are mentally tough so they know they are going to be able to get through it.’

Wednesday, Cedrick Cunningham prepared to join that honored list of West Point cadets. It still felt like a dream to him, though.

“It’s surreal,” he said. “Even knowing for awhile that this is where I wanted to be, at West Point, it’s still surreal to be here, actually signing and being part of the brotherhood.”

Will tackle for food

Lugoff-Elgin head football coach Matt Campbell dangled his own gift certificate to Dave’s Place restaurant in Lugoff in front of Adam Rowson like a man tempting a desert traveler with an ice cold bucket of water.

All Rowson, the Demons’ 6-foot, 185-pound middle linebacker, had to do to change possession of the slip of paper which could be exchanged for food was to record 20 or more tackles in a game. After several weeks of having just come up short, Rowson beat his coach at his own game by topping the 20-tackle mark, an achievement which he did five times on his way to recording 198 tackles in 11 games last fall.

It took Rowson all of three games before reaching the 20-tackle mark with 22 stops in a win at Midland Valley.

“Me and Coach Campbell actually had a bet going on,” Rowson said while breaking into a laugh after admitting that he proposed the deal to his head coach. “Coach Campbell had a Dave’s gift card and he said, if I got 20 tackles in a game, he would give me the gift card. I would be getting 18 or, 19 (tackles) a game. Finally, I hit 20.

“I looked at (his tackles) from week-to-week but I never really let it affect my play.”

Rowson never slowed down for there as he registered 20 or more tackles four more times in 2016 with a high-water mark of 25 coming in a loss to Hartsville.

Having missed virtually all of his junior campaign with a wrist injury, Rowson admitted that he was a man on a mission. Part of that, he said, was re-establishing himself in the eyes of college recruiters.

“I had a point to prove after missing last year,” he said. “I came out with goals in mind and I was just trying to achieve those goals.”

While some coaching staffs took a wait-and-see approach as to how Rowson would return after having been sidelined for a good portion of his junior campaign, he turned some heads and changed some minds by, unofficially, ringing up the most tackles by a player in L-E or, Kershaw County football history.

“At the beginning of the season,” Rowson said, “I had heard from a few colleges because I missed last year with an injury. Mostly, I didn’t have anybody looking at me until this year.”

One of the first programs to jump on board with an offer was Catawba. When it came time to make his decision, Rowson never forgot the loyalty which the South Atlantic Conference member showed him throughout the course of his senior campaign. In the end, he said, signing with the Indians was the clear-cut choice.

“It was a pretty easy decision,” Rowson said. “Throughout the whole recruiting process, they showed a lot of love to me. It felt like family there. I knew I was going to upset a few colleges but it felt like the right decision, in the end.”

Rowson has been told by the Catawba coaching staff that they plan to keep him at middle linebacker, his personal preference, in college. He hopes to make his way onto the field and receive playing time come the fall.

Like any incoming freshman, Rowson said there are adjustments which have to be made upon entering college. On the field, he said, he needs to get used to playing alongside and against bigger and faster players while the speed of the game will increase from what he experienced in high school. Away from the gridiron, keeping up with his academic responsibilities are a priority.

Rowson said he does not anticipate the additional classroom work load and football practice being a burden as he prepares to embark on a new chapter of his life and living out a childhood goal.

“I always had a dream to play college football,” he said. “My brother brought me into football; he doesn’t even play it but just watching him watching football, I felt like it was a good sport and I really liked it. From there on, I just tried to do the best I could in playing football.”

From rivals to roomies to teammates

For the past four falls, the Camden duo of Jo Jo Watson and William Cobb lined up against Lugoff-Elgin’s Rahmel Burton when the two cross-river rivals met in their annual football showdown.

Now, the trio has to put all the animosity behind them after they each signed on with Limestone College.

In the instance of Watson and Burton, they will really need to put a quick end to that rivalry save for the day when their two soon-to-be alma maters meet on the football field.

When Watson was asked about if it would be strange being a teammate with Burton after having played on opposite sides of the field in high school, the record-setting Bulldog wide out broke into a laugh.

“Well, he’s actually (going to be) my roommate,” Watson said. “We’re good friends. He will be a great asset to the team and we’re going to do very well with him.”

For his part, Burton said he is ready to let bygones be bygones as he, Watson and Cobb begin this new journey together.

“It was a love-hate relationship but they’re my teammates now so it will be great,” he said with a smile. “We lost to them my whole four years (at L-E) but it will be great playing with them in college.”

While soon to be united as teammates, the trio traveled different paths before signing with the South Atlantic Conference Saints.

Watson used his senior season to burst onto the statewide scene, shattering Camden’s receiving marks which had belonged to players such as Bobby Engram, Kerry Hayes and Kelvin Grant. 

Burton’s story is one of an undersized (5-foot-7, 160-pound tailback) who could get the tough inside yards or, could bounce to the outside for long gains. 

Cobb is someone whose path to Gaffney included a stint as a running back and fullback as a sophomore at Camden before being moved to inside linebacker. The Bulldogs’ starting first baseman also gave thought to playing baseball in college before changing his mind following his visit to the Limestone campus last weekend.

“I definitely thought about that,” he said of playing baseball, “and I also thought about trying to walk on somewhere (for football) if this visit didn’t go as well as I hoped. But when I went up there, I really enjoyed it and I liked everything about it.

“When I went up Saturday for the visit, I really enjoyed meeting the coaches. They talked to me a lot about expecting me to come in and contribute early. They want me to play linebacker rather than fullback which is a big thing for me. I really liked the whole atmosphere there. I can really get into the whole program.”

Watson etched his name into Camden football lore this past season after setting single-season program records in catches (79) and receiving yards (1,449). His 15 touchdown grabs were two shy of Engram’s record of 17 set in the Bulldogs’ championship 1990 season. The 5-foot-10, 170-pound Watson also averaged better than 30 yards on kickoff returns while having thrown one pass, which went for a touchdown, against Cheraw.

Watson’s record-shattering campaign came after a junior season in which he totaled just seven catches for 92 yards with one touchdown grab. The past season could have been dubbed his redemption tour. He said is still has not sunken in that his numbers have exceeded players who went on to play college football and, in the instance of Engram, a 15-year NFL career.

“It feels great because I had a lot of people who doubted me and didn’t think that I would do that well. It’s nice to prove people wrong,” he said of his senior numbers. “I went out there and did my best but I still feel like I could have done more. But I’m happy with what I have done.”

Burton topped off his Demon career by rushing for 1,102 yards on 194 carries (a 5.7 yards/per carry average) with 12 touchdowns last fall. He also proved that he can be an every down back as he had 21 catches for 151 yards in 2016.

Those numbers should give pause to the doubters who will sometimes judge Burton on size alone. He did play with an edge in high school and he does not plan on changing at Limestone.

“I’m small … I’m undersized for a running back but I back it up on the field,” he said. “People are always going to underestimate me but when I get on the field, they know that I’m going to be a problem and somebody they’re going to have to deal with. That’s what I pride myself on.”

Cobb spent his first varsity season as a backup running back but when asked to be a feature back due to injuries as a sophomore, he topped the 100-yard marker in one game. But his passion was on the other side of the ball.

The son of former Camden standout defensive player, Greg Cobb, William Cobb was more at ease on the defensive side of the football. He paid immediate dividends for the Dogs after winning the inside linebacker post coming into his junior campaign. In 2015, Cobb led Camden with 97 tackles. He improved that number to 101 stops this past season.

The 6-foot, 200-pounder said he is more at ease on defense and anticipates staying on that side of the ball at Limestone. He thinks the Saints’ staff will get him on a program in the summer and try to get his weight in the 225- to 230-pound range.

“I’m definitely more comfortable at linebacker,” Cobb said. “I enjoyed playing running back and fullback and playing on the offensive side of the ball. It definitely helped with my footwork. I’ve always been a linebacker and a defensive player at heart. I just have to have that physicality and mental part of the game to play on defense.”

When being recruited by the Saints and receiving coach and former Michigan wide receiver Roy Roundtree, Watson was told that he will be used as a slot receiver. At Camden, he played on the outside. There is a subtle adjustment which he will have to make in moving several steps closer to the line.

“I’m going to have to get used to lining up inside and dealing with the linebackers. You know they are going to jam you at the line and be aggressive so, I have to work on getting off press coverage,” he said.

“I also have to get used to the competitiveness there. People playing college football are there for a reason. They want to play, they want to compete and a starting job isn’t always guaranteed. You have to go up there and do your best.”

As he prepares himself both mentally and physically for the college game, Burton said it reminds him of the first time he stepped on the practice field as a high school freshman. In some respects, this is akin to his going back to the future.

“I think the biggest change is going to be the speed, like it was going from middle school to high school,” he said. “It’s going to take some time to adapt to it but once you adapt, I think you can start to ball out.

“I’d like to get a little faster so that I can break away from people. As far as my physicality, I think that’s on point and where it needs to be. The people are bigger and the development is a lot faster at that level so I think I’ll progress really well in college.”

All three Limestone signees talked about how well their respective visits went and how excited they were to start their life as a Saint.

“I felt that it was the best choice for me. It’s a fairly close drive, I know a lot of people there and it just felt like home,” Watson said. 

“I just thought it was a great campus and that it was a great fit for me,” added Burton. “They recruited me early and I thought the coaches there showed me great hospitality. I also have a great relationship with Coach Roundtree.

“I’m really excited. There’s always that little bit of (nervousness) that you have but I’m really excited about the future and what’s going to happen.”

The trio will join former Bulldog Chase Truesdale, a redshirt sophomore tight end at Limestone. For Cobb, he said, having people he knows on the team and on campus will make the transition to college life, both on and off the football field, much easier on all three former Kershaw County standouts.

“It’s great,” he said. “When you go off to college, you know it’s going to be a new experience. To have these guys up there like Chase who can show me the ropes and what’s going on is big. Then, to have Jo Jo and Rahmel, we’re all local guys who can hang out.”


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