Five years ago, Belmont South Point High football coach Adam Hodge took his father out for Sunday dinner at a local buffet called Catfish Cove.
An eighth-grader named Larry Dowdy was coming in with his family. Hodge had heard all about the extra-large middle-schooler who would soon be at his school. But seeing him in person — and Dowdy was maybe 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds then — was a little bit different.
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“Larry came in the door and I said, ‘Daddy, you see that boy right there,’” Hodge said. “And he said, ‘Yes. What grade is he in?’ I told him he was in eighth and he said, ‘Wow, he’s a big young ‘un.’ ”
Of course, Hodge knows that great size doesn’t always equate to being a great football player. But by the time Dowdy got to South Point and Hodge got a chance to see his footwork, determination and work ethic up close and personal, he knew he had a special player.
Dowdy is now 6-4, 280 pounds. He’s committed to Georgia Tech, where he plans to attend business school. When Dowdy signs later this year or in February, he’ll reportedly be the first North Carolina player to sign with the Yellow Jackets since Raleigh Millbrook running back Marcus Marshall in 2015. Marshall is now at James Madison.
Georgia Tech appealed to Dowdy since his freshman season because of its elite business school and the option-style offense that’s nearly a carbon copy of what he’s played in at South Point. Dowdy took two visits to Tech’s campus after his all-state junior season ended.
So when Tech offered him as a priority recruit last May, Dowdy called the next day to commit.
“Georgia Tech was always at the top of my list,” Dowdy said. “And committing takes a lot of stress off my shoulders. Not having to go to camps and being able to focus on my team this year was great.”
At South Point, Dowdy has started since his freshman season. In his first game as a ninth-grader, he was so overanxious he jumped off-sides three times in a row against Lincolnton. His team lost 15 yards before it could run a play.
But then-coach Mickey Lineberger stuck with Dowdy at tackle and the team has gone 37-8 with two state-championship game appearances plus the 2016 N.C. 3A championship.
In 2015, Dowdy’s freshman season, he was the only freshman starter on a state runner-up. In 39 years of coaching at that point, Lineberger said Dowdy was only the second freshman offensive lineman to start for him.
And he’s kept getting better.
“I have been here 15 years and he’s one of the best I’ve ever coached or seen,” Hodges said. “But the thing about Larry is he’s such a good kid. Larry’s a great player, but not many have the grades (3.7 GPA) or character that he has. To go to a place like Georgia Tech is quite an honor. They have a pretty prestigious academic program and most people that go there do fairly well in life.”
Hodge said Dowdy’s biggest strength is how he finishes plays. Some guys, he said, will hit you once; some will hit you twice. He says Dowdy just doesn’t stop.
“He’s a great finisher,” Hodge said. “That’s the biggest thing that sets him off. He just finishes the play well.”
Dowdy also wants to finish his career well.
Remember, as a freshman he lost in the state finals. As a sophomore, his team won the championship.
His junior year, then, stands as an anomaly.
South Point was 12-0 and ranked No. 1 in the N.C. 2A polls when it lost to Shelby in the second round of the 2017 playoffs. And the Red Raiders had beaten Shelby 35-15 two weeks earlier in a regular-season meeting. The loss ended a Gaston County-record 22-game win streak and gave South Point a cause to rally around this season.
The Red Raiders graduated 15 starters, but Hodge — a second-year coach who played at the school — thinks his team has plenty of talent, just talent you haven’t heard of. Yet.
South Point also has Dowdy, who is determined to finish his senior season the way he routinely finishes off defensive linemen.
“We might not have as much returning talent as we always had, but we’re really together as a team,” Dowdy said. “We are going to have a lot more love in (the locker room). The best thing that’s happened to me was winning the 2016 state. The toughest was losing my freshman year. I didn’t believe we could lose. It caught me off guard.
“It made made me a lot more determined and focused on what I really wanted. Then we lost early last year.”
So can South Point get back to the finals for a third time in his career? Dowdy grins, then laughs.
“I guess we’re going to have to find out.”