ROWLAND — For Darrius Brown, the transition into a starting running back has been quicker than usual.
The sophomore Mustang credits that growth to the players from last season’s South Robeson football team who will be playing in college this fall.
“The guys that are going off to college, they’ve been telling us about what they do,” Brown said.
“It’s definitely helped. There’s no walking once you get to college. Work hard, be on time, and give it your hardest on every play.”
Brown also credits second-year coach Clay Jernigan for the program’s growth.
“I hope we come out and win, but it all starts in the classroom and weight room,” he said. “Coach has been stressing that to us all along.”
Jernigan will need players like Brown to step up this year. The Mustangs lost 15 players to graduation, including four all-conference performers — Kalvis Chavis, Corbin Hunt, Cedrick Sinclair and Jacody Blue.
Chavis, who is playing at Elizabeth City State this fall, is one of the players who helped out with practice this summer, preparing the younger guys for the varsity level.
“I hope we come out in win, but it all starts in the classroom and weight room,” Brown said.
“(Kalvis) helped us a lot with some stuff on the field.”
Jernigan said he’ll be looking at a few players for leadership this fall.
“The biggest thing we have to do is grow up,” said Jernigan, whose team made the playoffs last season despite a 3-9 record.
“The kids have bought in, I’ve been with them a year now. We’re hoping the seniors will step up to lead this younger bunch.Emanuel (Thompson) is a junior, Darrius is a sophomore, Fabian (Hunt) is a junior. (Melquan) Ocean-(Dinnerson) is a senior and he tries, but he can’t put it all on his shoulders.”
As a senior playing on both sides of the ball, Ocean-Dinnerson said this summer has helped him prepare to take on a new leadership role.
“I’m just working hard,” Ocean-Dinnerson said.
“You can’t take any days off. You’ve got to hustle, work hard in the weight room, be on time for practice and get ready to go. Someone is always ready to take your spot.”
The weight room has been a point of emphasis for Jernigan since his arrival on campus, but he knows it will take time for the Mustangs to build a solid foundation.
“I want them to see us play physical, that’s what we’re trying to teach these guys,” Jernigan said.
“It takes time — work in the weight room — for us to build strength. Right now, we’ve got to build some confidence, have some fun and not worry about making mistakes.”
Junior Fabian Hunt, the new starting quarterback of the Mustangs, is looking forward to his new role as the general on offense.
“I’m just trying to lead the team the best I can,” Hunt said.
“Just making sure I have a good attitude. I’m trying to stay comfortable.”
Hunt said he’ll be depending on various players to help him transition into a top notch quarterback.
“The running game with Darrius will take some pressure off me,” Hunt said.
“Jordan (Strickland) takes pressure off too because anything I throw, he’s going to go up and try to get it. We just have to be ready for all of the pieces to come together.”
While Jernigan knows the team is in for an uphill battle this season, he’s confident his squad will do everything it can to stay competitive and stick to the process.
“We’re all about hard work,” he said.
“You can’t cheat the grind. It’s only going to give you what you put in. We’re taking the David-Goliath mentality. We might be out-talented, but we’ll work. We’ll be competitive.”
Rodd Baxley can be reached at 910-416-5182. Follow him on Twitter @RoddBaxley.