Lake Norman & Mooresville

Seniors boost team in transition

After losing a great deal of talent heading into this season - both to graduation and to Hough High - Mike Bradley and his North Meck team knew they could be in for a challenging season.

With 17 first-year starters, the senior class has been instrumental in keeping the Vikings (3-7, 2-4 in the I-Meck) heading in the right direction.

"Our school, our team is in transition," said the Vikings' head coach. "Our senior class did a good job of meshing all these kids together."

One of those seniors, cornerback/running back Jalen McCullough, knew he had to do everything in his power to help his Vikings.

"As seniors we had to take a big role - especially after starting 0-3," he said. "We had to keep our head up and make sure we brought the other guys along with us."

McCullough, one of the team's best runners, decided to give up some of his rushing attempts to help his team.

"He's one of the most unselfish guys on the team," said Bradley. "He volunteered for the good of the team to be a defensive back. He's our best secondary player."

As the offensive line's only returning starter, left tackle Thomas Dunlap said he felt he also needed to step into a leadership role for the team to hold it together.

Bradley said Dunlap, who he says is one of the best defensive lineman on the team, also sacrificed by playing on the offensive side.

Senior Gavin Rawls, who played linebacker last season, moved to the offensive line to help the Viking offense.

Bradley said he's been impressed with Rawls' play.

"His freshman and sophomore years, I didn't think he would play varsity football, but he's ended up being our most consistent offensive lineman," said Bradley.

The line has struggled to keep up at times.

"Every game we feel like we're going up against people who are bigger than us," he said. "We fight every game, so I can't expect anything more."

With those struggles, senior quarterback Mike Irvin has also seen some hard times with turnover troubles. This has forced the coaching staff to give sophomore Kelly Hall snaps as well as to run the "wildcat" formation with West Charlotte junior transfer Terrence Clyburn, a wide receiver, under center.

"We know the offense isn't going to put up a lot of points," said McCullough. "On defense, we have to hold teams to two touchdowns - or three - to give us a chance to stay in and fight."

McCullough has had some help on defense from an experienced linebacker corps that includes fellow seniors Latham York and Andrew Yost.

Despite the team's record, Bradley said that he's proud of his Vikings, as they've shown more heart than more talented and experienced squads.

"The result hasn't always been great, but the effort has been outstanding," he said.

Rawls agrees.

"We bring it every week, we're ready to play," he said. "But it's been tougher."

But Rawls said the team has improved since earlier in the season.

"Our offense is starting to perform better, but we still need to iron out the details," he said.

As the 2011 class prepares for its senior night against Hopewell on Friday, they hope to win their first game in front of a home crowd this season.

"I wish we could have given them a better season," said McCullough. "But that would be a good one to win."

The group is still is disbelief that their high school football career is nearing its end.

"It hasn't hit me yet," said Dunlap. "I don't think we'll realize it until the game is over."

Bradley admits he will miss this class as they leave North Meck behind.

"They are three great seniors, great students, good people," said Bradley. "We just have a great group of seniors."

But first, they must come together as a team one final time.