Big talents from small schools
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- If the prep football careers of South All-Star teammates Brandon Spurlock and Zach Wamsley were a quest, you could surely say they passed the test.
Wayne's Spurlock and Wahama's Wamsley, accomplished small-school running backs, each led his team to a state championship last December, raising not only their own reputations, but also the pedigrees of their respective programs.
The squat-but-speedy Spurlock (5-foot-7, 185 pounds) ran for 2,003 yards and 28 touchdowns last year as Wayne captured its second straight Class AA title, blanking Keyser 35-0 at the Super Six in Wheeling.
Meanwhile, the bullish Wamsley (6-0, 215) rushed for 1,253 yards and 24 TDs as a fullback and played ferociously at linebacker last season as Wahama claimed its first Class A crown, edging Madonna 43-42 in an overtime thriller at Island Stadium.
Each was rewarded for his efforts by being named captain of his respective all-state squad - Spurlock for the Class AA first-team offense and Wamsley for the Class A first-team defense.
Even with all his accomplishments, which included finishing third in the voting for the Kennedy Award as the state's top player, Spurlock said the opportunity to appear in the annual North-South game served as his motivation this week.
He wants to show that there's talent outside of Class AAA rosters.
"Oh yeah, that's mainly the reason why I wanted to be here,'' Spurlock said, "is to prove that. We're all young men out here playing the same game. We love the same game. It's just to prove you're out here with the best players, and I'm glad to be part of it.''
Wamsley feels like he's carrying the banner for a lot of talented Class A players who aren't part of the North-South experience.
"Definitely,'' he said. "I'm out here representing Wahama and I'm also representing single-A players to show that we can compete. Just because we don't have as many people in the school as Cabell Midland and Hurricane and all those other schools doesn't mean that we don't have as good of athletes. Just because we're single-A, we can compete.''
Both players have opportunities to continue their careers in college - Wamsley is headed to Concord to play, while Spurlock is weighing the chance to compete at West Virginia State against accepting a job offer. A nagging hamstring injury could figure into his decision.
But no matter which path they choose, they can take satisfaction in knowing they've helped elevate their respective high school football programs from cursed to first.
Once upon a time, the Pioneers were scorched in title-game losses to Bluefield (69-24 in 2004, 27-7 in 2009), but are now unquestionably the dominant team in double-A, ripping off 23 straight victories, a streak that will carry over into the 2013 season.
"It just feels awesome,'' Spurlock said. "Wearing the 'W' on my helmet coming up here feels awesome, representing Wayne. We had a pretty good season. I wouldn't play for any other team in my career. I'm glad I'm playing on this [South] team, but it feels really good to be representing Wayne.''
The White Falcons, on the other hand, had only played in the state finals once before, losing to Wheeling Central 28-14 in 2010.
Shiny records certainly weren't the problem, as the White Falcons have now posted three straight 10-0 regular season marks and carry a 31-game regular-season win streak into next fall. But by beating Madonna, they answered all the questions about their Ohio-based Tri-Valley Conference schedule, finally proving to the doubters that they belonged.
"It definitely wasn't easy,'' Wamsley said. "I think it wasn't a good thing, but going all the way to the championship game my sophomore year made me really realize what it takes to win it. It made us work that much harder, and since we were seniors, we had those leadership positions and we pushed all of our teammates, and we got it done.''
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or firstname.lastname@example.org.