When East Lincoln senior Cameron Dollar found out he had mononucleosis the Monday after Thanksgiving, he admits he was in total denial.
Dollar was not only busy getting ready for the East Lincoln football team’s (11-3) state quarterfinal game at defending 2AA state champion, Monroe, but also looking forward to playing in the Shrine Bowl, Dec. 17 in Spartanburg, where he had been selected to represent the North Carolina all-state team.
But just when the football season mattered most, doctors sidelined, Dollar, for at least a month.
Dollar who admits he doesn’t even like sitting out for a play during an East Lincoln basketball or football game, the 6-foot-4, 195-pound wide receiver/safety/punter, says it was one of toughest things he’s experienced.
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“I thought it would be strep throat, because I had had a lot strep growing up,” Dollar said. “But when they told me it was mono, I really didn’t even know what mono was, but I knew it wasn’t good. Then, my mom (Pauline Dollar), told me, ‘you’re going to be out for a while.’
“I really couldn’t believe this was happening, right when my senior season in football was ending and basketball was starting. I tried everything I knew to avoid sitting out, but I had to rest and get better.”
To say Dollar counted down the 30 days his doctor told him he had to be out, would be an understatement.
Dollar routinely called his doctor to tell him he was doing better, and was ready to go.
“You have no idea how bad I wanted to play just a few days after I found out I had mono,” Dollar said. “I called the doctor all the time. I made them (doctors) do another ultrasound to check me out. I was desperate to get back and help my team. Football was really tough, because it was my last game (against Monroe). …
“But basketball was even tougher, because we have a really young team. I watched them lose a few games that we shouldn’t have lost, and it was really frustrating that I couldn’t be out there to help my teammates.”
Dollar, 17, would miss East Lincoln’s first eight, basketball games. He was cleared to return to practice just a few days before the Mustangs hosted the East Lincoln Winter Jam Holiday tournament, Dec. 27-29.
Coach Chip Ashley and his East Lincoln team had weathered the storm to some degree, going 4-4 without Dollar in the lineup.
“We’re going to be a young team with Cameron in the lineup, but without him, we started five sophomores in a few games, and then one junior and four sophomores in others,” said Ashley, who has been either East Lincoln’s head coach or an assistant for the last 30 years. “We probably had the youngest team in East Lincoln history, but I said if we can make it through December, we will be OK.”
Dollar was able to shoot on the side and do some light running at practices, but was still not in good shape when he was cleared to play.
But Dollar came out smoking in his first game back, in the opening round of the East Lincoln Winter Jam, against Ashbrook, despite being “terribly fatigued.”
Dollar scored 26 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, dished out six assists and nabbed three steals, nearly posting a triple-double in a 71-67 win over Ashbrook.
Dollar made 11 of his 12 shots, including three-for-three from the three-point line, two-for-three from the free-throw line.
“During the game, I didn’t really even notice how well I was playing dead tired for most of the game,” Dollar said. “But I’ve learned to use my energy right. So, every dead ball, every timeout, I was walking slowly up the court, or sitting down.”
Coach Ashley expects nothing less than the best from Dollar.
“Cam only practiced three days, and one of those was just a walk-through the night before the tournament,” Ashley said. “But he was tremendous in that first game back (Ashbrook). Honestly, that is what I expect out of Cam in every game. It’s not fair, because this year, we have to rely on him so much. The last few years, he was a great secondary player to guys like Chazz and Sage Surratt. He’s never had to be the man. But now, he’s the man. …
“But he never complains, and he will do anything the team needs him to do.”
After being a key role player on an East Lincoln basketball team that has gone 76-6 in the first three years of his Mustang career, Dollar has had to adjust to a younger team (7-6) that already has as many losses as the program had the last three years combined.
While Dollar says he is still learning how to play the lead role on this East Lincoln team.
“Being the leader of this team has definitely been a major adjustment,” said Dollar, who was named to the East Lincoln Winter Jam all-tournament team. “I went from a guy that Coach Ashley would call for four to five plays a game for, to a guy he (Coach Ashley) calls 25 to 30 plays per game, now. …
“I’ve been watching a lot of my own film. I’m learning when I need to shot, when I need to pass, when I need to drive. I’m learning to make better decisions. Ultimately, whether I score six points or 30 points, my goal is to win games.”
Dollar has infused a renewed confidence into young lineup that usually consists of junior point guard, Coleson Leach, sophomore wings, Sidney Dollar (his younger brother), Allden Horne, and sophomore post, John Bean. Senior, Alec Burleson, and sophomore, Ben Zirkle, have also played key roles.
While Coach Ashley says he is trying to limit Dollar’s minutes, “it’ hard to sit your best player on the bench for long.”
Dollar is putting up career-highs in points (19.2), rebounds (7.4) and assists (5.2), while shooting 53 percent from the field.
Dollar has had several other big games since he returned, including a 18-point, including two last week: starting with a 24-point, seven-rebound and six assist game in a win over Newton Conover, Jan. 3.
He also had 21 points, 13 rebounds and six assists in a 75-65 loss to West Caldwell, Jan. 5.
While most of Dollar’s energy is on his final basketball season in an East Lincoln uniform, he also has a bright future in another sport.
Dollar signed to play football for the Charlotte 49ers, and will likely play at wide receiver.
Dollar also had a big season on the gridiron for East Lincoln this fall, catching 54 passes for 1,256 yards and 14 touchdowns.
He also set a national record for touchdowns in a half, when he caught nine passes for 300 yards and seven touchdowns in a 69-0 win over Christ the King. Dollar became an instant national, social media star, even doing an interview with ESPN via skype the following Thursday night.
But no matter what Dollar accomplishes, he remains the same person with the same focus.
“I’ve put up good numbers, but none of that matters unless we win games,” said Dollar, who boasts a 4.1 grade-point average and wants to major in civil engineering. “We need to pick things up and start winning. We’ve already lost too many.”
“Cam is a great athlete, but he is an even better person, and a great student and just a great kid, who does all the right things,” Ashley said. “I feel like he is one of my own children and I would do anything for him. …
“I’m looking forward to watching him grow (at Charlotte) for the next four years.”
Jay Edwards is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.