Antonio Wallace has one season to make a lasting impression on South Mecklenburg High football.
The senior is a key to the Sabres’ chances of competing for the SoMeck 4A title and most important, playoff success that has eluded South Mecklenburg throughout his career.
“As a senior, it makes it even more important,” Wallace said. “It’s my last year and I want to be with all those great quarterbacks in North Carolina who lead their teams to a state championship.”
Wallace passed for 14 touchdowns against three interceptions when a broken wrist sidelined him in the sixth week. He was a spectator for the remainder of the season while the Sabres (9-3) lost to league rival Ardrey Kell in the first round of the playoffs.
“For me it was shock,” Wallace said. “We beat them the game before and it was just crazy how we couldn’t beat them this time.”
Said South Mecklenburg coach Rocky White: “That’s one of the things that eats at him. He was there and ready to come back the following week if we had handled our business in the playoffs.”
The loss motivated Wallace, who rehabbed the wrist and put in extra time improving mastery of the offense. His teammates responded by voting him co-captain.
“He is an extremely hard worker, he’s an extremely smart young man,” White said. “We expect him to keep building on that. I don’t see any reason why he should back up. He had a great summer, he had a great 7-on-7 season and I think he’s going to be an even better college player than he is a high school player.”
Wallace didn’t look much like a quarterback when he arrived at South Mecklenburg as a 115-pound freshman. Although he was small, he pushed himself physically to earn playing time and a position of leadership that coincided with the team’s resurgence.
“It’s been a long ride,” he said. “Freshman year, I came in weighing 115 and now I’m 6-3, 180. I did a lot of work in the weight room, getting outside practicing, really just working hard.”
The reward South Mecklenburg is looking for is postseason relevance, having last won a state title in 1981. The Sabres are eager to follow in that team’s footsteps.
“That’s something this senior group talks about,” White said. “We’ve done a great job getting the program back. Seven wins (are) great, but that’s not where we want to be. Eight wins, nine wins, that’s not what we’re about. They want to take that next step and get to the playoffs and make some noise and get back to the South Mecklenburg that everybody who’s my age remembers.”
Said Wallace: “What I’m really focused on is getting past that first round of the playoffs. When we get past that first round, there’s no doubt in my mind we can go to the third round or even the state championship.”
Observer Sweet 16: South Mecklenburg Sabres
The Observer continues with previews of teams in its annual preseason Sweet 16 high school football poll. The teams will be revealed in alphabetical order. The poll, with numerical order, will be released following the previews.
Head coach: Rocky White (Fifth season at South Mecklenburg, 47-59 overall).
2015 record: 9-3 (5-2 in the SoMeck8 Conference)
Key returning starters: Jake Lawler, Sr., DE/TE (6-5, 230); Antonio Wallace, Sr., QB (6-3, 180); Josh McNeely, Sr., WR/DB (5-10, 165); Travis Prince, Sr., RB (5-10, 185); Holden Parker, Sr., LB (5-10, 190); Jon Doerer, Sr., K/P (6-3, 175).
Key Newcomers: Angel Rivera, Jr., DE/TE (6-3, 225); DeAngelo Blair, Jr., RB/LB (5-11, 220); Jalen Weddington, Jr., DB/WR (5-11, 185/Vance transfer); Adam George, Jr., OL (6-5, 295); Nick Wilson, Sr., OL/DL (6-0, 320).
Returning starters: 12
Returning lettermen: 25
Outlook: The Sabres have improved their record in each year of coach Rocky White’s tenure. With a strong senior class, led by defensive end Jake Lawler, three-year starting quarterback Antonio Wallace and running back Travis Prince, South Meck appears poised to challenge Charlotte Catholic for a conference title and make a deep playoff run.