Magical season for Chargers
By Mike London
FAITH — The eastern part of Rowan County has long been known as the baseball side of town.
At least not since W.A. Cline, C.M. Yates, Johnny Yarbrough and the rest of the Mustangs took that 13-0 ride at East Rowan High in 1969.
The Rowan County Youth Football League cranked up in 1987, and no one can recall an east area team winning a Super Bowl before the Granite-Faith Chargers won the division for players in grades 5 and 6 this fall.
Granite-Faith beat perennial power North Rowan 20-13 in the Super Bowl to cap an undefeated season, while the West Rowan Panthers were claiming the 3rd-4th title.
Chargers head coach Ron Blythe is an electrician by trade, but he got into youth coaching five years ago. His son, Zach, had broken an arm wrestling and wanted to give the gridiron a try, so Blythe found himself spending more and more time around football fields.
“I was always going down there, and the Granite coach (Greg Jones) asked if I’d help out some,” Blythe explained.
Blythe got hooked on the sport and the kids, and it wasn’t long before he was the head coach for the 3rd-4th and 5th-6th Granite-Faith entries. That was like taking on another full-time job. He performed double duty two years before reducing his role with the younger team to consultant.
Blythe did not have colossal expectations for his squad this season.
“I saw my numbers, and it was real scary,” Blythe said. “We started with 24 kids, and you’re always going to lose a few. Some teams had about 45.”
The Chargers, who won games on three fields — West Middle, North Middle and the Faith Jaycee Ballpark — finished the season with 22 players.
Blythe liked his team’s opening-game romp over the West Rowan Falcons, but Week 2’s 19-12 win over North’s Cavaliers made him re-examine everything.
“North hadn’t been beating our pants off, but I’d never beat them and our kids had never beat a North team,” Blythe said. “Coach (Kent) Ryan does a super job with the North kids, so that game made me change my goals. I thought maybe we could win the league, but I still never expected to be undefeated.”
YFL has rules that take getting used to — no blitzes, no rushing the punter, players can’t play both first-down offense and first-down defense — and it takes a full staff to keep track of everything. Blythe relied on a small army of assistants, including Chad Moose, who coordinated the defense.
Middle linebacker Michael Glenn and outside backers Dalton Moose and Tyler L’Hommedieu anchored a defensive unit that got better each week.
Offensively, Granite-Faith backs Travis Abbitt and Max Allen were hard to handle in a league where ballcarriers can’t exceed 125 pounds. Blythe estimated that Allen, who had phenomenal numbers, is 5-foot-4, 116 pounds.
“In my opinion, we had the two best backs in the league,” said Blythe, who usually sent Abbitt boot-legging right or left. “Travis is an athlete, and he’s smart. It’s like his feet are hard-wired to his brain, and when he’s on first-down offense, that usually means it’s going to be first down again. He ran this year like I always thought he was capable of running. He took some poundings for us.”
Catawba coach Chip Hester spoke to the Chargers one practice and brought along a dozen larger-than-life players to help inspire the squad.
“That was unreal,” Blythe said. “Best practice we had all year.”
Granite-Faith tackled once-beaten North in the Super Bowl and repeated its one-TD margin of victory.
“We went undefeated, and I can’t say enough about the heart of our kids,” Blythe said. “We had 60-pound kids willing to block 120-pounders. It was amazing, exciting and very fun.”
Coaching is Blythe’s passion. When he’s not working or sleeping, he’s drawing up plays on napkins for 2007.
“North will still be the team to beat,” he said. “They’re always a juggernaut.”