South Mecklenburg football coach Rocky White, a former star quarterback/defensive back at Olympic High and later at the University of North Carolina, just wrapped up his second season with the Sabres. Although they didn’t make the playoffs, the Sabres finished their first year in the So. Meck 8 with a 3-4 record – a stark improvement from their 1-6 run last year. White says his team is headed in a positive direction – a direction he hopes will place the Sabres back on the competitive map in just a few seasons.
Q: After finishing the season 3-8, and 3-4 in conference play, are you pleased with your team’s performance this year?
A: I come away from the season thinking that we’ve come a long way. Honestly, 3-8 isn’t what we wanted to be, but it isn’t always the wins and the losses that matter. I think No. 1, I put our team in a very difficult situation with our non-conference schedule. Independence, at the time we played them, was one of the best teams in the state, and I think they still are. I think that’ll prove itself in the playoffs. Rocky River, we played them tremendously close, and the time we played Myers Park, which was before all the (back problems) with coach (Scott) Stein, and I really think they played their best game against us. Obviously Porter Ridge is a heck of a good team. Non-conference was very tough. We had a bye week after that, so we sort of refocused ourselves getting ready for the conference, and the kids really did a good job getting ready for the conference. We were competitive in all our conference games and really had a chance to win five out of seven of them. We ended up 3-4 in the conference but at this stage, we’ve learned that you have to crawl before you can walk and you have to walk before you can run. I feel like we’re in the jogging stage right now. I’m excited about where we’re going, I really am.
Q: You just wrapped up your second season coaching at South Mecklenburg. What are you learning about the program here?
A: When I came back from Charlotte after being at West Mecklenburg and then spending time in South Carolina (Lancaster High) helping coach one of my sons down there, I came back and I really had three places picked out that I thought would be great places to be a head coach, and South Meck was at the top of the list. So when coach (James) Martin left, that was the job I knew I wanted. There are a number of things you have to have in order to be successful as a football coach. No. 1, you have to have a good administration. We have a very supportive administration here. No. 2, you’ve got to have facilities. Our facilities, I think, are the best in town. We have a beautiful stadium, a great booster club and great boosters. No. 3, we personally have a great coaching staff here and that’s something you have to have – not just football coaching staff but our whole athletic staff is outstanding and they’re all supportive of each other. The fourth thing you have to have are athletes. I think we have all four of those. Not only can we win, but I think once we get it going we’re going to find that we can win big and win around the bases and that’s the direction that we’re heading. We like where we’re going and I wouldn’t be anywhere else.
Q: What is your long-term vision for football here at South Mecklenburg?
A: Right now, we’re working on probably our biggest project. The thing that we’re furthest behind on is weight training. We’re not as strong as our competition. We don’t have all of our kids on the weight room on a daily basis like the Butlers and the Independences and the Providences. We don’t have that luxury yet. Our administration is working with us on that. No. 2, we don’t have a facility big enough or equipped enough to help get enough kids in there to work them at one time to help them get to that level. So we’re right in the middle of a fundraising campaign to try and get that weight room where it needs to be. Right now, it’s no bigger than a locker room, so we really don’t have the time or the resources to build a whole new facility right now. What we’re looking to do is go to a whole new structure, sort of a cross-fit type structure where we can have a lot of open floor and be able to work more people in there at a time. We’re thinking that if we can raise $25,000, we can get that thing equipped and we can get to work quickly.
Right now, we’re doing a big fundraiser that we’re calling “A Cookout with Coaches and Friends,” and we’re asking people to donate essentially $200. We’re going out in the country – I’ve got a friend who has a big country plantation in South Carolina – and we’re going to do a big pig pickin’. It’s going to be a lot of fun and we have a lot of people that have made donations to support it. We’ve got giveaways, raffles, all sorts of things. We’re really reaching out to our alumni base to get on board and help us get there because that’s really the one component, when we play the Independences and the Providences and the Butlers, you can see that we’re not as strong as those teams. That’s the one area where we have to have things happening before we can get better.
When we play teams like Catholic, if you don’t have kids that are physically strong enough to take that pounding for 70 plays on offense and 70 plays on defense, you aren’t going to beat them. That’s the area that we’re really pushing on, long term, and it’s the piece we’ve got to have if we’re going to take this thing to the next level. That’s our strategy right now and it’s going to pay
Q: What are your plans for the off-season in order to prep for next year?
A: We started lifting yesterday. There’s no down time because we can’t afford to take down time. We are that far behind, strength-wise. We have a lot of skilled players. Our young guys are fast and very skilled but we have to get them stronger, and they understand that. We stared in the weight room on Tuesday, and we’re in there Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday all through the off-season. Our guys will be involved, if they’re not playing basketball or wrestling, they’ll be doing indoor track with us. We aren’t taking anytime off.
Q: With 16 seniors graduating in the spring, how will this affect your team next season? Will it be a rebuilding year?
A: Of our 16 seniors, nine of them were contributors. We’re definitely going to miss the leadership of a few of them. I think Terrence Pearson, a senior, in my opinion was the best defensive player in the whole conference. We’ll miss his leadership. We’ll miss Mitch Lowery and our other two captains, Bedrick Yobo and Dontell Tyler. But the rest of those guys, they were all good players but we have guys who are just as good as them that can play. We started seven to eight sophomores and seven to eight juniors that will still be around. We have people coming in ready to play and ready to fill those shoes. You always hate to see your seniors go, but we’re starting to get in that fortunate situation where when I first got here we didn’t have a depth chart. Now we have a depth chart, and we have people backing up every position.
Q: Last year several players were ineligible to play because of grades. What are the academic standards that you’ve set in place?
A: When I first got here, and it was something that I wasn’t aware of at the time, we lost 12 young men to academics. All of them would’ve been contributors. We started study hall full blast. We moved our practice back and didn’t start practice until 4 p.m. this year so they could go to study hall from 2:25 to 3:35 p.m. every day after school. We could get tutors lined up, we could get them with their teachers, and we’re really trying to set that precedent. All football is, is a tool to help these athletes get to the next level. Most of these kids aren’t going to play college football but we want them all to have the opportunity to go to the next level and be students, whether they’re student athletes or not. We tell our kids all the time, ‘You use the game, don’t let the game use you.’ We try to talk the talk and walk the walk.
Q: What is it like coaching alongside your two sons?
A: My one son, Walker, has been here with us this year as our defensive coordinator. He’s a full-time substitute and looking to get a full-time job somewhere in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. My other son, Houston, who was with us last year and a good part of this year, just took a full-time job out in the real world working as an analyst. My wife (Anita) and I are blessed with seven children. … I played for my dad (former Olympic coach Joe White) and my dad was probably harder on me than he was on everybody else. I’m sure at times I’m harder on my sons than I am on others. I coached both of them and they know my expectations. But really, it’s a lot of fun. I like coaching with them and really just like having the opportunity to be around them. Having Walker here with us on defense this year was a blessing, it really was. He’s extremely talented. At the time when Walker first started playing football, we lived down in Lexington, S.C. I coached Walker’s little league team and coached those guys all the way through. But it’s really great being here and having them here with me. I said when I came in, my plan is to either die or retire here. I don’t plan on going anywhere else.