Despite fall options, county football players are staying put for spring season

BY CHAPEL FOWLER, News + Record Staff
Posted 9/16/20

A fall without football means a lot of things to Cameron Sanders, but wasted time isn’t one of them.

The Northwood senior still has plenty of goals leading up to his final season, which the …

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Despite fall options, county football players are staying put for spring season

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A fall without football means a lot of things to Cameron Sanders, but wasted time isn’t one of them.

The Northwood senior still has plenty of goals leading up to his final season, which the NCHSAA pushed from an August 2020 to February 2021 start date in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Sanders wants to stay in shape, using the gym in his basement for bench presses, treadmill runs and squats. He wants to improve his leadership qualities, something he feels like he’s grown in after being “a little timid” vocally as a junior. And he wants to get noticed.

“I look at everything as an opportunity,” said Sanders, who also goes by his middle name, Wes, and plays defensive tackle and fullback for the Chargers. “There’s other ways to get recruited than just playing.”

To do that, he fine-tuned his online presence this summer, adding 2019 highlights to his Hudl page, boosting his Twitter presence and creating an account on Next College Student-Athlete, a recruiting platform where high school prospects from any sport can connect with coaches.

This fall, he’s hoping to use his NCSA account to chat with college coaches, introduce himself and lay the groundwork for the spring season. Campbell, Winston-Salem State and UNC-Pembroke are among the football programs Sanders wants to touch base with.

The overarching theme of it all: Sanders, an all-conference pick last fall in the Big 8 3A, is staying at Northwood to do it, rather than leaving for a high school that’s playing sooner.

“I thought football was going be canceled, so realizing it was just going to be moved back was an opportunity from God,” he said. “If I didn’t play football (for Northwood), I wasn’t going to play.”

And Sanders isn’t alone in that thought.

The head coaches at Northwood, Jordan-Matthews and Chatham Central all confirmed to the News + Record none of their players had transferred to other high schools or states who’ve been allowed to kick off their football seasons as planned in the fall. The Chargers, Jets and Bears are all waiting it out.

Although not a pervasive trend, such transfers have happened in North Carolina this summer. A.J. Simpkins, a rising senior quarterback at Hopewell High near Charlotte who’s been getting Division I buzz, reclassified and transferred to Christ School, an independent school in Arden, near Asheville.

Christ School is a member of the North Carolina Independent Schools Athletic Association, which is allowing member schools to play football, and will kick off its 2020 season at home next week.

Other players have transferred to public schools in South Carolina, where schools can start their seasons Friday, Sept. 25. In an informal survey of 70 Charlotte-area football coaches, the Observer’s Langston Wertz Jr. found that at least 14 players had moved on to either N.C. private or S.C. public schools.

That hasn’t been the case for Chatham County’s three football teams, though.

At Chatham Central, senior quarterback Michael Moore said he’s committed to staying in Bear Creek and “just seeing what happens.” He was the school’s only all-conference pick last fall in the Yadkin Valley 1A, throwing for 1,725 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Although his family briefly considered a move to Myrtle Beach, Moore, who has visited Coastal Carolina and Wake Forest, decided to stay put at the school where he’s started under center since his freshman year.

“It just wouldn’t feel right anywhere else,” he said. “If we get the opportunity to play, we’re planning to take advantage and take nothing for granted.”

In Siler City, Jacquez Thompson of Jordan-Matthews has one main goal for his senior year: a scholarship.

Playing at 5-foot-6 and 160 pounds, he was an all-conference linebacker in the PAC-7 2A and also played cornerback, running back and slot receiver for the Jets. He tries to model his offensive game after the Kansas City Chiefs’ Tyreek Hill and said he “loves the contact and the adrenaline” of defense.

When he first heard his season had been pushed to the spring, Thompson was shocked — getting adequate recruiting film in seven games was going to be tough. He, too, weighed his outside options, but the combination of his mom’s job and his personal comfort kept him at J-M.

“Now, I’m just ready to get back on the field,” said Thompson, who has interest from Methodist University in Fayetteville and Averett University in Virginia. “I can’t wait to put on those shoulder pads.”

Northwood has a few notable seniors sticking around for a delayed 2021 season. Along with defensive tackle Sanders, there’s kicker/punter Aidan Laros, fullback/middle linebacker William Lake and long snapper Jake Mann, who sports several Power Five offers.

Sanders said the Chargers have a team group chat, where he and the rest of the seniors have been increasingly active this fall. They’re confident Northwood can improve on its 4-7 record in 2019.

That bond is another reason he’s excited to stick around in Pittsboro for his final season, however strange and delayed it may be. Not like he ever really considered leaving Northwood anyway.

“This senior group, as a whole, is one of the best we’ve had in a while,” Sanders said. “We’re all connected, and we’ve all got the same goal.”

Reporter Chapel Fowler can be reached at cfowler@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @chapelfowler.

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