Seniors lay groundwork for family mentality

Published 9:27 pm Tuesday, December 8, 2015

MICHAEL PRUNKA | DIALY NEWS ALL TOGETHER: The Seahawks huddle up during Friday’s regional final at Plymouth. Southside’s ability to play as a team has made all the difference in two years.

ALL TOGETHER: The Seahawks huddle up during Friday’s regional final at Plymouth. Southside’s ability to play as a team has made all the difference in two years.

CHOCOWINITY — Southside is just a few days removed from Friday’s 17-12 loss to Plymouth in the 1-A eastern regional final. The sting of defeat is still there. The Seahawks know that if one more play went their way that the outcome may have been different; that they may be taking a trip to contend for the state championship this weekend.

“That’s how the chips fall,” said senior running back Lawrence Brown.

But the graduating Seahawks have a lot of accomplishments to hang their hats on. The team won just three games in 2013 when they were sophomores. Fast forward two years and they are leading Southside to its first semifinal appearance in over a decade.

Most importantly, they’ve helped to lay the groundwork for a program that can continue to contend for championships. A lot has changed in two short years, but nothing more so than Southside’s ability to play as a team.

“Our freshman and sophomore years, we were all playing, but we weren’t playing for each other,” Brown said. “By our junior year and into our senior years, we’re talking junk to each other on the field and the coaches are hyped. Every practice, we’re trying to kill each other.

“At the end of the day, we were all cool. We’d go out on Thursdays, get something to eat together and just bond as a team. I think that really brought us together overall because it’s easy to play as an individual. A team that’s playing for each other, it makes it a lot harder to defeat them.”

Brown excelled as an individual this season. He eclipsed the 2,000-yard mark and was an offensive catalyst out of the backfield, along with fellow senior Matt Baxter. The duo was a dangerous combination, but, to them, no personal accolade topped what they built as a team.

“Just how efficient we were as a team and how we progressed from year to year,” Baxter said of his No. 1 takeaway from his time playing football for Southside. “There’s a strong mentality. I think we set the bar high.”

Quarterback Johnny Sullivan added, “I’m most proud of this team. It came together since our sophomore year. We used to just fuss at each other and now we’ve come together as a family. We were more committed to each other. We started spending more time with each other.”

Those relationships translated to results on the field. The offense averaged just a shade above 20 points a game in 2013. They doubled that scoring output this past season en route to one of the most successful years in program history.

Sullivan added his stamp to the offense just as Brown and Baxter did. The dual-threat quarterback commanded Southside’s traditional Winged-T offense like a mechanic, all while also adding his own aerial twist to it.

“I’ve seen the offense go from more of a run-based offense to leaning more on passing,” he said.

The defense evolved in a similar way. Southside conceded, on average, 32.75 points per game in 2013. The Seahawks gave up, on average, less than 20 points a game this season. More importantly, they made game-changing plays — especially in the playoffs.

Senior offensive and defensive lineman Donshae Tatum played a big role in the improvements on both ends. He spearheaded a stout defense and his blocking at the line helped aid the success of the likes of Brown and Baxter.

“I think we were really blessed this season,” Tatum said. “Me being a captain and leader showing by example went a long ways with the team.”

Despite stepping away now, Tatum is excited to see how some of these younger members of the team will continue to step up on and off the field. Joe Myers is someone he pegged to continue to grow in a leadership capacity.

Junior linebacker and captain Hunter Sparks had a lot to do with the defensive turnaround, too. He will be a big component of maintaining not only that success, but also making sure that team culture thrives moving forward.

“When we juniors and seniors started, our freshman and sophomore years were kind of rough,” Sparks said. “These last two years, we’ve built up, came together and became one unit … People quit being selfish and we started working as a team. Once you become a team and a family, family is closer than anything.”

The Seahawks family will graduate 14 of its own this year, but that dynamic won’t leave with them. The juniors have shown their leadership capabilities time and time again and the younger members have a proven model to follow.

They play for one another and that has made all the difference in just two years. Continuing to do that will be what separates them as championship contenders.