Make No Mistake, Rams are Legit Contenders

Veteran QB Brody Whitson dashes against Asheville, in the season-opening triumph in rain Friday.

Skyland – T.C. Roberson Rams’ WMAC title contention hopes hinge around a prolific passing combo, athletes all around the field, larger than usual linebackers, and supreme confidence from some huge victories last season.

Jason “J.D.” Dinwiddie is in his fifth season as Ram head coach. He debuted at 8-4 in 2016. The Rams last won at least a share of the league crown in 2012. Last season, TCR was third in the nine-team league at 5-3 and lost a thrilling 56-50 home playoff contest to Kannapolis A.L. Brown.

The Rams’ signature wins included doubling up the Cougars 42-21 at Asheville, after seizing a 28-7 lead by halftime. TCR got the jump on Asheville wide screens, such as with a “pick six” interception. Roberson beat Erwin, another perennial contender, 39-37 to ignite a four-game WMAC win streak.

This abbreviated season started Friday with a marquee WMAC de-facto title elimination game. Roberson hosted an Asheville team rededicated to running the ball. “They had a size advantage. But our kids stuck their noses in there, and got after it — flying after the ball.”

Even months ago, “I’ve heard many of our players say they’re ready to compete for the conference championship,” Coach Dinwiddie said. “They’re very anxious and excited, to get started. They’re so energetic. They’re very coachable and attentive. Their attitudes are fantastic.”

Zharius Looper (1) sprints downfield against Asheville Friday. Other Rams include Rodney McDay (12). Photo by Pete Zamplas.
Zharius Looper (1) sprints downfield against Asheville Friday. Other Rams include Rodney McDay (12).

Power Players

Quarterback Brody Whitson (6-1, 185 sr.) passed for 2,707 yards and 24 touchdowns and 14 picks, after emerging as the starter midway into the ‘19 season. The lefty is mobile, and adept at throwing when on the go. “Brody is good in the pocket. He can get outside when he needs to scramble and makes adjustments on the run,” Dinwiddie said. He said the lefty is “not a robot,” and has a “smooth” throwing motion.

Intangibles are even better, the coach added. “Brody is more mature. He understands our system. He’s smart, very coachable, and a hard worker. He’s not going to try to do more than he should. Brody has the ability to make special plays.”

Rodney McDay (6-1, 190 sr.) is again the go-to Ram receiver. He caught half of Whitson’s TD throws, taking 12 of them to “the house.” McDay caught 98 passes, for 1,334 yards (13.6 ypc.). Dinwiddie plans to get “creative getting him the ball,” such as on handoffs. Ram skill players often interchange in getting deployed as receivers or backs, in the spread.

Tyler Elliott (6-3, 215 sr.) is another big target. Swift Deshaun Whitmire (5-10, 170 so.) and Kam White (5-10, 160 jr.) are other key receivers. “Top to bottom, this is the most talented starting receiving group I’ve had here,” Dinwiddie said. “They have size. They’re good perimeter blockers and good route runners.”

The primary tailback is Zharius Looper (6-1, 190 sr.), a fast open-field runner who ran for four TDs and 3.8 yards a carry in ‘19 in backing up ‘20 grad Devin Credle. Looper has “developed better vision” of tacklers, and is now “better catching the ball,” Dinwiddie said. Keep an eye on freshman P.J. Deshauteurs (5-10, 180 fr.).

Up front, the two returning starters are strong Tyler Quesinberry (6–0, 220 sr.) and big Logan Southern (5-10, 290 sr.). New starters are guards Tyson Conner (6-2, 195 jr.) and Jason Nguyen (5-10, 185 jr.), and LT Brandon Keiser (6-2, 230 jr.). “Our guards are very mobile,” Dinwiddie said. “They’re not big. But they’re tenacious. They get after it.”

Coach J.D. Dinwiddie
Coach J.D. Dinwiddie

The new kicker is Brady Buckner (6-1, 165 jr.).

The 4-2-5 base defense is “beefier at linebacker” with Jake Stanley (6-1, 215 jr.) and Conner, TCR’s top returning tackler with 100, Dinwiddie said. “We’re more active on the D-line” with DTs Quesinberry, Southern and Chandler Norton (6-2, 225 jr.) and DEs Elliott and Qynndaios Rice (6-0, 240 fr.). These D-linemen “can fly,” Dinwiddie said. CBs are Zavion Woldu (6-0, 185 sr.) and Nazir Garner (5-9, 150 sr.). “Half-safeties”/OLBs are Whitmire and White. Free safeties are Looper and Daniel Andrade (5-6, 150 jr.).

Can the Rams dethrone Reynolds in the WMAC? “I see us finishing first. That’s our (usual) goal,” Coach Dinwiddie said. “We have good pieces, to compete for it. We have to execute, and play our game.” With COVID-related limits and health challenges, he said, “We face different circumstances this season. Teams that handle it best” and avoid “opening jitters” will prevail.

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