Hard work paying off for 2nd-year Chargers

After a 1-10 inaugural season, Cox Mill has rebounded incredibly.

The Chargers finished the regular season with a 7-4 record, going 4-3 in the South Piedmont Conference. Cox Mill closes out their second regular season ranked third in the conference, securing their first trip to the state playoffs.

"It just shows how hard the kids have worked," said Chargers' head coach Greg Neuendorf. "I'm very proud of them."

The Chargers have been led by running back Jhaquille Hankerson, who has had a breakout season, having rushed for more than 2,000 yards this year.

"He's like a train, once he starts rolling, you just have to let him take it," said quarterback Arrick Hincher, who has also showed a lot of improvement this year.

The junior has surpassed the 1,000 yard mark and had thrown for six touchdowns going into last week's 45-7 loss to rival Northwest Cabarrus.

The offense, which junior wide receiver Parker Kenney also played a key role in, has averaged 27 points per game, a big improvement from the less than nine points they scored per game in 2009.

Linebackers Donovan Moss, TJ Poole and Tristian Green have led a much-improved defense that is giving up 25 points per game - two touchdowns less than they gave up to opponents last season.

Hincher admits that last year was a learning experience for the team.

"It showed us that we weren't the all-stars that some us thought we were," he said. "Over the summer, we worked real hard - coach pushed us. I think we just came together."

With all 22 starters returning, the team has made a 180-degree turnaround: from not being competitive in the SPC to winning the majority of their conference games. Cox Mill's other three losses this year came to one-loss Thomasville and A.L. Brown squads and to Hickory Ridge.

Neuendorf said that this season has been gratifying, although he says he doesn't deserve any of the credit.

"I don't make any plays - I don't block, I don't tackle, I don't throw any, I don't catch any - I'm just happy for the kids," he said. "They're the ones that put all the hard work to make this happen."

Neuendorf attributes the Chargers' improvement to their maturity.

"It's all the same kids, but it's Cox Mill football 2.0," he said. "We're a little bit bigger, a little bit stronger, a little bit faster."

But getting the team to believe in themselves may have been even more important in the team's performance.

"Confidence has been a big issue this year, last year we came into games hearing people saying 'How bad are we going to lose this time?'" said Hincher.

"But this year it's been a big change, kids are saying 'How bad are we going to beat this team?'"

That attitude has spread through the school and the community.

"It's nice to have some success and for people to be proud of wearing their Cox Mill stuff," said Neuendorf.

Hincher said he's excited about playing in the Chargers' first-ever postseason and for what the future holds for his football team.

"It feels good to know that a team can make that big of a change," he said. "It's good to get a quality season down. Even at the end of the season, as we go into playoffs, we can look forward to next season and say 'You know, next year can be even better.'"

Neuendorf, who admits that he doesn't think his team grasps the enormity of making the playoffs in its second season, hopes the postseason will reinvigorate his Chargers.

"I hope the excitement makes them play better as opposed to being deer in headlights," he said.

But regardless of what happens the rest of the way, Neuendorf will always remember the contributions that the dozen seniors on his team have made to the program.

Hincher is also thankful for the legacy they leave behind.

"This was a class that was prematurely pushed into leadership roles," said Hincher. "They had to carry us on their back last year through all the tough losses, through all the bad attitude."

The Charger seniors are getting to enjoy the reward of their perseverance and hard work and will try to make the most of it in the playoffs.