Football

Five Catawba players going home

By Ronnie Gallagher, The Salisbury Post

To fans in this state, South Carolina is football crazy. But ask anyone with Georgia ties, and they’ll tell you there is even more of a fever pitch one state below the Sandlapper state.

“Being from South Carolina, I know football is important,” said Catawba football coach David Bennett. “Go one state below and it’s more important.”

Catawba’s Indians are going to find out first-hand starting today. They climbed aboard a bus this morning and headed for the southernmost part of Georgia, where football is not a sport, it’s a religion.Rumor has it, kids in Valdosta, Georgia brush their teeth with a football. In this town, they refer to the good book as the one with pigskin plays drawn up in it.

And that playbook usually creates state champions in high school and national contenders in college.

The latest road to the championship goes through Valdosta State University. The Blazers, who usually don’t outdraw the high school, are the No. 1 team in the nation. They have last year’s — and certainly, this year’s — Harlon Hill trophy winner in quarterback Dusty Bonner.

It makes Georgia natives proud. And in Catawba’s case, five Georgia boys are very happy to be coming home.

***

There are five Indians planning on a homecoming Saturday when No. 8 Catawba plays Valdosta State in the South Region final and a chance at making the Division II Final Four.

They come from Lawrenceville and Dunwoody, Buford, Kennesaw and Norcross. None of those places are anywhere near Valdosta but make no mistake about it. Mark Sintich, Corey Reese, Ryan Norman, Grant Cain and Ryan Daniel know all about the football tradition of Valdosta.

Cain went to a high school in Kennesaw, like Valdosta, a 4A school.

“They take football seriously down there,” said Cain, a defensive back. They’re a powerhouse.”

Cain watched the state championship game during his senior season. It is always played in Valdosta because that’s the biggest high school stadium in the state.

“Compared to Shuford (Stadium)?” asked Cain. “It’s a lot larger. It holds 10-15,000 people.”

Cain never made it into the high school stadium as a prepster but he will Friday.

“They’ve got a football game there that night,” said Bennett, “but they’re going to let us get on the field for n hour.”

***

Daniel was the only one of the five Catawba Georgians recruited by Valdosta State but signed with Catawba for two reasons.

One, he fell in love with this place and two, as he puts it, “it was real hot in Valdosta.”

Tight end Mark Sintich may have ended up at a Georgia school had it not been for sheer coincidence.

Although he said he wanted to get out of Georgia, West Georgia and Georgia Southern were really the only suitors for the the 6-5, 250-pound tight end. As a junior, he and a teammate, Anthony Spencer, wanted to attend a football camp together in Jacksonville, Fla. But oddly, Spencer backed out because of a vacation. So they rescheduled their camp and ended up at Catawba.

Sintich said, “I was the MVPof the camp and Spencer won the Best Defensive Player.”

Catawba, of course, began recruiting both and they ended up leaving Georgia.

“I wanted out because I had lived in Georgia my whole life,” Sintich said. “And a lot of guys from my high school went to West Georgia and I didn’t want to follow in their footsteps. So for us to end up at Catawba, it’s pretty amazing. “It’s like it was meant to be.”

***

The Georgians will all have family and friends in attendance on Saturday. Sintich has another tie.

“The (defensive backfield) coach at Valdosta was a senior at my high school when I was a freshman,” he said. “I looked up to him. It would be real nice to get the upper hand on one of the old boys.”

Sintich agrees that football is everything in Georgia and most locals aren’t like him. They want to stay home.

“Valdosta State, for instance has 63 players listed on its roster. Fifty-three are from that state.

“You can’t go wrong with an ol’ Georgia fella,” said Bennett.

***

Cain, Norman and Reese are Georgia boys who will be on centerstage.They are all defensive backs going up against Bonner.

“I’m looking forward to it,” said Cain. “It’s always a great challenge to go up against a big name like that.”

Norman, who played on an 0-10 team as a high school senior, was not recruited by many schools and Valdosta was one of the teams he thought about walking on.

“Hopefully, it’s going to be a homecoming and a sweet victory,” he said. “I’m looking forward to going back home.”

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