The 2008 South Park Falcons Pee-Wee football team had a season the players still haven’t forgotten.
The Falcons – 29 children age 10 to 12 years old, led by head coach Fred Parker, defensive coordinator Skip Huddleston and line coach Roger Purgason – went 7-1 that year, capping the season with a 14-0 win against the Steele Creek Seahawks in the Optimist Bowl at Memorial Stadium.
The game was televised as the “Little Panthers’ Game of the Week.”
The impact of that team can still be felt today on many high school football fields in south Charlotte.
Fourteen of the 29 players on the 2008 South Park Falcons are on local high school rosters, with three more having graduated in 2014.
The list includes eight Myers Park seniors: defensive end Mark Biernacki, defensive end Parker Blake, defensive back Marcus Chan, kicker/punter Sean Jeffries, quarterback Clay Norris, defensive back Will Otto, running back Dominique Summerville and defensive end Robert Stafford.
The group also includes Ardrey Kell senior defensive tackle Rhett Huddleston, Charlotte Christian junior tight end Alex Parker, Charlotte Latin senior quarterback Daniel Jones, Charlotte Country Day senior defensive lineman Julien Souffrant, Charlotte Catholic senior running back Cole Perry and Providence Day senior receiver Ryan Connor.
The three 2014 graduates are Myers Park’s Connor Dulin and Jake Hackworth and South Mecklenburg’s Chase Scott.
“Honestly, we knew we had a good group of kids that season, but it didn’t seem like a great collection of talent at the time,” said Skip Huddleston, adding that assistants Mark Mosley, Dean Otto and Pete Perry also played big roles in the team’s success. “Our goal was to teach kids the fundamentals of football and get them high school football-ready so they could enjoy Friday night lights, and I think we did that.
“But if you had told me if I thought 15 or 16 of them would be contributing players on their high school teams now, I would have never imagined that happening.”
The players say they still can feel the impact that team had on their passion for the game.
“The biggest thing about that team was laying a foundation for loving football,” said Jones, the 6-foot-5, 195-pound starting quarterback at Charlotte Latin, who passed for 28 touchdowns last season as a junior. “Coach Parker and coach Huddleston and the rest of the coaches really made football fun, while also being serious about it. I think we all discovered our passion for football then, and have never lost it.”
“That season gave us a lot of confidence,” said Rhett Huddleston, a 6-foot-1, 270-pound starting defensive tackle at Ardrey Kell. “We all got a taste of what it’s like to really play well together and enjoy it. It left us all wanting more.”
Several former Falcons have had big games this season, including Jones in his debut against Cox Mill, where he passed for 312 yards and five touchdowns in a 65-27 win.
Alex Parker caught a 25-yard touchdown pass to put Charlotte Christian up 14-7 at halftime against then-Sweet 16 No. 1 Mallard Creek. Charlotte Christian lost the game 28-21.
Charlotte Catholic’s Cole Perry ran for 75 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries in his team’s 45-28 upset win against defending S.C. state champion Rock Hill Northwestern.
Coaches Fred Parker and Huddleston got to watch many of their former players when they took in the Ardrey Kell’s 23-17 win against Myers Park on Aug. 29.
“It was a great feeling to hear our former players called by the PA announcer, like, every other play,” Huddleston said.
“I take a tremendous sense of pride in what these players are accomplishing,” Fred Parker said. “It really reassures us that we taught them right. A lot of these kids played for me for five or six years, and they almost feel like your sons.”
Rhett Huddleston said a lot of the former Falcons are still friends and talk on a regular basis, including he, Parker and Otto. Jones says he still talks to Huddleston and Perry a lot.
Norris said he and Huddleston had a running conversation during the Aug. 29 game between the Mustangs and Knights.
“Every time we play each other, we still talk about that team and reminisce about old times,” Rhett Huddleston said.
The 2008 players often can be found working with younger players at “Hammer Down” Football Youth Program practices, where Purgason and Huddleston coach and work with players from ages 7 to 14.
Last season, Hammer Down teams won two of the three Piedmont Youth Football League Super Bowls, the prep (age 7-9) and junior varsity (age 9-11).
While the some of the memories of that 2008 South Park Falcons championship season have faded, the team’s legacy – for coaches and players alike – will live on.
“I’ve been around youth football for quite some time now and coached a lot of good teams,” said Purgason, a former South Mecklenburg High and North Carolina standout offensive lineman, who is also an assistant at Carmel Middle School. “But that 2008 team was very unique. The kids wanted to be successful and were willing to do the extra work to get there. It has paid off for them.
“I don’t like we will ever see a (Pee-Wee) team quite like that around here again.”