High School Sports

Rock Hill South Pointe, No. 6 in Sweet 16, must develop offensive line

South Pointe offensive line coach Mike Zapolnik (center) and the Stallions must replace all five offensive linemen this season.
South Pointe offensive line coach Mike Zapolnik (center) and the Stallions must replace all five offensive linemen this season. bmccormick@heraldonline.com

South Pointe offensive line coach Mike Zapolnik teaches art at the school. In replacing all five of his offensive line starters from last season’s state championship team, “Zap,” as he’s called by other coaches, has been commissioned with one of his biggest coaching challenges yet.

“Every program goes through the rebuilding process, and that’s where we’re at,” said Zapolnik. “The guys will have to step it up. That’s all.”

Offensive line was South Pointe’s position group hit hardest by graduation. The Stallions return quarterback Greg Ruff, receivers Quay Brown and Josh Wilkes, and athletes/defensive backs Chris Smith, Derion Kendrick and Nick McCloud. The latter four are major-college commits/prospects, and the backfield is solid too with Zaylin Burris, Voshon St. Hill and H-back Paul-Michael Potter. Weapons abound for offensive coordinator Jason McManus.

Instead of looking at the glut of skill-position talent as heaping pressure on his unfinished offensive line unit, Zapolnik sees it in a different light.

“That’s the good news, I think,” he said. “We do have some good skill guys around us. It won’t take much for a couple of those guys to get out there and get going and run down the field.”

South Pointe runs a zone-blocking scheme, where offensive linemen tend to move into spaces and find blockers as opposed to lining up directly in front of a man they’re assigned. The Stallions’ Air Raid-style offense doesn’t require blocks to be held very long, just long enough to get the ball into the mitts of Smith or Wilkes or Brown, or any one of the slippery open-field snakes on the edges.

“That’s one of the reasons this offense has gotten so popular,” said South Pointe head coach Strait Herron. “You don’t really have to block anybody, just be a speed bump. I think it will help us. It’s all about moving your feet and having good technique. They’re not the biggest group in the world, but I think athletically they’ll be pretty sound.”

Senior Paden Lipe will be one cornerstone of the line, once he gets fully healthy. Lipe started as a sophomore and started several games last season before going down with a shoulder injury.

One thing that was clear at a practice last week, “Zap” gets on with his offensive line group very well. He and his position group recently had a cookout at one of the running backs’ house and a corn-hole tournament ensued. Herron assured a reporter that Zapolnik let his players win.

South Pointe’s fifth-year head coach lauded Zapolnik’s relationship with his players, saying “Coach Zap, he’s as good as it gets. He’ll have them ready.”

“Sometimes he tries to use art in our things,” said Lipe. “It doesn’t always pan out that much. But coach Zap, he’s a great guy, one of the best coaches I’ve been under.”

The confidence and respect is clearly mutual between the offensive linemen and their coach. That should resonate throughout a team that has its eyes on the first back-to-back state titles in the school’s short, but illustrious, history. The Stallions still have only one loss in the 3A classification in the years they’ve competed at that level.

“We’re definitely blessed with so much talent around us that we can be the first team to go back-to-back, which is our ultimate goal,” said Lipe. “We have so much talent that if we work together as a team, sky’s the limit.”

Bret McCormick: 803-329-4032, @RHHerald_Preps

Back-to-back 3A football state champions

South Pointe is trying for consecutive 3A state titles in football, something that hasn’t been done in the classification in 15 years, and only seven times ever.

1963-65, Gaffney

1977-78, Clinton

1980-81, Myrtle Beach

1983-84, Myrtle Beach

1991-92, Daniel

1996-97, Fairfield Central

1999-2000, Union