Home Local Sports ‘Focused’ Rockets look to reclaim county dominance

‘Focused’ Rockets look to reclaim county dominance

A collage of photos from a Rockingham Middle School football practice last week. (Deon Cranford)

ROCKINGHAM – As the Rockingham Middle School football program prepares for its upcoming 2022 season, it finds itself in a unique and unacceptable position – not at the top of the Richmond County standings.

The year 2021 was not kind to the Rockets, who had to endure three consecutive losses to rival Hamlet, two during the COVID-delayed 2020 season that was played in March 2021, and the other played in the regular season finale last fall. 

To add salt to the wounds, the Red Rams took the spring games with a pair of shutouts (34-0, 30-0) and denied the Rockets’ revenge bid in the fall meeting with a goal line stand in overtime.

It was the Red Rams’ first 3-peat in the series in over twenty years, and the Rockets look to reclaim the county legacy that the middle school, junior high and high school Rockets have maintained for over a century.

Rockingham is coached by Zach Freeman. This fall will be Freeman’s fourth season on the Rockingham sideline – his second as the program’s head coach.  Joining Freeman is assistant coach Austin Harvin, and the duo is guiding a team that Freeman believes is the most disciplined group he’s worked with.

“They are very focused,” Freeman said of his Rockets during last week.  “This is the most focused group that I’ve seen here in the last four years.”

Freeman paused for a moment to point out that some players were silently listening to instruction while others were preparing to practice in another area of the field on their own without a coach present.

“You see?,” Freeman continued while pointing to his team again.  “Listen to how quiet and disciplined they are.  They are very coachable and very manageable.  There is some natural talent out there as well, but just having a team that listens to directions makes it easier on us as coaches and helps us to get them ready.”

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The Rockets return 12 players from 2021 and Freeman expects eighth grader Chance Crowder to carry a lot of the load. Crowder was a multi-sport athlete for Rockingham Middle last season and was tabbed rookie of the year in football and most improved player in basketball during the school’s end of the year athletic awards banquet.

“He’s a workhorse,” Freeman said of Crowder.  “He’s going to be big for us.”

Another player catching the attention of the coaches is seventh grader Gabe Clark.  While he hasn’t been officially named the team’s quarterback, he appears to be the player to beat for the role.  As the team’s practice continued, Clark’s spin and accuracy definitely stood out.

“He puts in the work,” Freeman explained of Clark. “He’s left-handed.  I’ve never had a lefty at quarterback which has made it new and fun for us, plus, he has a great arm.”

As Freeman scanned the field at the receivers practicing near one sideline and the linemen working out by the other sideline, he reiterated his happiness with the overall discipline and work ethic of the team.  “I’m very pleased with this group overall,” Freeman continued.  “I’m really excited to watch them grow and be successful this season.”

The 2022 Southeastern Middle School Athletic Conference (SMSAC) season will kickoff with a jamboree on Wednesday, September 14.  The regular season will begin the following week on September 21 and will conclude on November 5.  There will be a conference championship game on November 12. 

Note: Rockingham’s complete schedule was unknown at the time of this story and expected to be finalized on September 7, but the Richmond Observer will share all Richmond County middle school fall schedules when that information becomes available.