Fortunately, a shopping cart was sitting in the corner of the South Pointe High School auditorium.
What brought in a pile of gift bags for Stallion football players for the program’s April 21, 2018 awards ceremony, helped Derion Kendrick carry out his haul of awards when it was over. There was a rather large Gatorade Player of the Year trophy, a wrestling belt and several other plaques, certificates and honors.
Kendrick and the rest of the 2017 team gathered one last time to recognize an incredible 2017 in which the team went 15-0, won a fourth straight state title and maintained a lofty national ranking the entire season. Kendrick, Jamari Currence and Eli Adams came back from college to enjoy the celebration and add a fourth state title ring to their already sparkling knuckles. Their former school represented a respite from a whirlwind of change in the last few months.
“There is stuff I’ve got to get adjusted to,” said Currence, who is at James Madison University. “Managing all that time on my own, I wouldn’t have to do that in high school.”
Adams, the Virginia Tech defensive lineman, echoed his friend’s comment.
“From high school to college, it’s really on you,” he said. “Time management really plays a part in it. Once you get that down, the whole college experience will be nice.”
Adams said his biggest challenge so far has been learning defensive terminology. The Hokies do very similar things with their defensive linemen as South Pointe, but everything goes by a different name. While Kendrick and Currence both turned heads this spring after getting ample opportunities to impress, Adams has had to wait his turn a bit more because of Virginia Tech’s loaded and experienced defensive line group.
“Instead of being, like, the star on the team, you’re sitting back watching the older guys on the team play,” said Adams. “It really humbles you and just makes you want to work on your game.”
A few of the older linemen have taken Adams under their wings. There aren’t many freshman rights of inititation but rookies do clean up weights in the weight room after the team finishes lifting. That’s not that bad, right?
“It is that bad,” Adams said with a grin.
Injuries in Currence’s position group enabled the true freshman to get more on-field repetitions than most people would have expected.
“A lot of the coaches were impressed with how I played. I impressed myself with a lot of stuff,” Currence said.
He was surprised that the speed of play didn’t blow him away. Knowing what to do, where to be (on and off the field) has proved more important during his infant college days. While the decision to enroll early may not pay immediate dividends this fall, it should set Currence up to compete for playing time when the cornerback position group thins out a bit next spring.
“I’m real happy with it,” he said about his early enrollment. “They tell me all the time that it was a smart decision because it’s paying out for me.”
Kendrick, the Clemson wide receiver, is waking up most days at 5:30 a.m. to lift weights with the team. Just like all the other new experiences in the past few months, he’s gotten used to it.
“Just really getting the hang of things, going to class, starting early, really working on my future,” he said.
Kendrick knew what to expect and things have followed the program that was explained to him before he enrolled. He’s turned heads on the field, with Clemson coaches comparing the Rock Hill native to former Clemson receiver and NFL pass-catcher Sammy Watkins.
There are plenty of talented, vocal veterans sitting in the wide receiver position group meetings. Kendrick, the youngest receiver on the team, doesn’t say much. No surprise there. Instead, he sits quietly, scribbling down important things to remember in a notebook.
“Just staying focused, listening to what coaches have to say and keep writing down my notes every time we have meetings,” said Kendrick. “I’m probably the only one in there writing anything down.”
Saturday’s awards ceremony wasn’t Kendrick’s first time back in Rock Hill since he became a college student. He came back April 14 to go to prom with his girlfriend and was almost just like any other high school senior enjoying a special night in a spiffy dark red jacket with his friends.
“It doesn’t feel different,” he said. “I always know they’re gonna be there supporting me.”