Russell Tabor has gone to Charlotte Country Day High School his whole life, and when he was much younger, he vividly remembers watching former Buccaneers quarterbacks like Morgan Roberts and Michael Radford lead the team to big wins on Friday nights.
“Since kindergarten,” he said, “I would go to these games and watch [them] go out there. From a young age, I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”
Last season, Tabor became a starter late in the season, and the 6-2, 185-pound junior responded in terrific fashion, leading Country Day to a memorable N.C. Independent Schools’ Division II state championship.
Trailing by four points to Metrolina Christian with less than two minutes to play, Tabor hit Rylan McLaurin with a fourth-down touchdown pass. But a holding penalty was called. Instead of taking the lead, Tabor and Country Day faced a fourth-and-19.
With the game in the balance, Tabor nearly stumbled down after the snap, a play that would probably have ended the game. Just after that, he avoided a couple of Warriors’ defenders in the backfield. A sack would’ve ended the game, too. Tabor ran to his left, retreated and sprinted to his right.
Finally, Tabor heaved a 22-yard scoring pass to McLaurin in the corner of the end zone that eventually landed at the No. 2 spot on MaxPreps’ national plays of the week.
Country Day won its first state championship since 2010.
Now, Tabor is back as a full-time starter and is one of 14 starters and 19 lettermen back from a team that finished 8-5, the most wins at the school since 2012.
“I could spend a lot of time talking about [Tabor],” Country Day coach Drew Witman said. “He’s a really heady kid. I’ve said in the past, [he’s] really smart, really intelligent, but just has natural qualities as a leader, and it’s so nice as a coach to have a guy on your side who is leading in the same direction.”
Witman is expecting a big season from Tabor, whose brother, Alex, was an all-state basketball star for the Bucs last season. Alex Tabor is a freshman at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and is a preferred walk-on for the basketball team there.
In fact, Witman thinks that Russell Tabor has a very high ceiling in his final two years at Country Day.
“We’ve had a lot of talented kids,” Witman said, “but sometimes through injury, or something else, you get stuck in a bad situation. We’ve been fortunate to have some good [quarterbacks], but a couple haven’t stayed healthy. If Russ can stay healthy, he’ll be one of the better ones.”
Tabor said he’s ready to embrace his new role as entrenched starter and team leader.
“Last year,” he said, “I felt I was more of a role player. And now I’m excited to lead from the front, and I have such a close relationship with all the guys on the team, and it’s real exciting to get to play with them.”
Friday’s high school football games
Covenant Day at Charlotte Latin, 7 p.m. — Covenant Day was a surprising 6-5 last year but struggled against 4A foes like Charlotte Latin. The visiting Lions will hope their defense, anchored by 250-pound end David Billiard, can slow down a Latin attack featuring quarterback Jake Helfrich and running backs Ja’Varis Bufford and Carter Stockwell.
Cabarrus Warriors at North Raleigh Christian, 7 p.m. — History will be made here, as Concord First Assembly and Concord Cannon School play for the first time as a combined team, the Warriors. Coach Brad Hoover (the former Carolina Panthers’ running back) has 15 returning starters. North Raleigh Christian lost most of its playmakers from a 1-9 team of a year ago.
Indian Trail Metrolina Christian at Southlake Christian, 7 p.m. — Metrolina Christian scored a 33-8 victory when these teams met a year ago. The host Eagles will be tested by Metrolina quarterback Angel Gonzalez, who threw for 833 yards in a backup role last season. The Warriors’ ground game is rebuilding, with 1,000-yard rusher Jack Crump now playing at Monroe.
— Steve Lyttle
This week’s schedule
(all kickoffs at 7:30 p.m., unless otherwise noted)
(last year’s records in parentheses)
Cabarrus Warriors (0-0) at North Raleigh Christian (1-9)
Carolina Bearcats (4-6) vs. Statesville Christian (3-4) at Weddington Optimist Park
Covenant Day (6-5) at Charlotte Latin (6-5), 7
Indian Trail Metrolina Christian (8-4) at Southlake Christian (7-5), 7
Rock Hill Carolina Crusaders (1-8) at Asheville Saints (6-4), 7
Cabarrus Stallions (6-5) at Chapel Hill AHOP Christian (0-5), 1