Editor’s note: The Robesonian’s 32-member all-county football team will be announced Dec. 15.
ROWLAND — Vonta Leach follows prep football in Robeson County, doing so with greater interest since Stephen Roberson’s arrival at South Robeson High in 2012.
“He’s done a great job despite the hard task ahead of him when he took over,” said Leach, the Mustangs’ most famous alum. “It makes me feel good to know that South Robeson has a chance at getting back to the dominance of the area like we did back in the day.
“It had been awhile since they won a playoff game.”
Leach was right.
South Robeson’s pair of playoff victories this season snapped an 11-year streak without one and with that, Roberson ended George Coltharp’s two-year reign at the top as The Robesonian’s 2013 Coach of the Year.
“I think we’ve re-established the respectability factor here, but that’s not from coaches, that’s from the players,” Roberson said. “I knew it would be tough going through our conference with the realignment and I wasn’t real excited about that, but our goal was to make the playoffs and go from there.”
Prior to South Robeson’s third-round postseason travels, the Mustangs’ victory over Red Springs on Sept. 27 highlighted the turnaround against a defending Three Rivers champion for a previously irrelevant program.
Roberson inherited a winless team two seasons ago following Garron Warwick’s departure and made it a point to focus on fundamentals first, results second.
The Mustangs went 3-8 in 2012 before winning an area-best eight games this fall.
“If I could say one thing about Steve, it’s the noticeable difference in how hard South Robeson plays,” Coltharp said. “One of the biggest compliments a coach can get is hearing that his kids play hard. When things got bad in a game, normally they would fold but they fought through it. You can tell they play hard for him.”
Mustang seniors Michael Smith and Tyler Roller made sure Roberson knew how much they appreciated his efforts after a second-round win over West Columbus set up an Albemarle rematch, dumping a cooler filled with water down his collar.
Roberson doesn’t grin often, but he enjoyed the gesture.
“We have great coaches man, coaches that care,” Smith said. “Without coach Roberson, we wouldn’t be where we’re at. Nobody thought we would be the last team playing in the county, but we did it.”
Coming into the season, Roberson assumed the Mustangs would be better on offense with the additions of Juan Ellerbe and Andrew Hill to an established backfield, but equally spreading the football around took heavy calculation.
It also meant returning quarterback Kalvis Chavis wouldn’t get as much opportunity.
“We have a lot of unselfish players and you have to have that in our scheme,” he said.
South Robeson led the area in nearly all rushing categories including yards per game, touchdowns and yards per carry. The Mustangs averaged 30.6 points per game and did so with a traditional, low-risk attack.
Chavis’ 129 pass attempts were 38 fewer than the nearest area quarterback.
“From Day 1, Steve made it clear that they would be a power running team,” Coltharp said. “It took a year for it to work, but he’s got a lot to be proud of in Rowland.”
Reach staff writer Brad Crawford at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @MrPalmettoSDS.