Spartans expecting banner year
Sun Valley High's football team may be going into a new era with head coach Paul Hall, and a new classification, but the expectations have not dropped.
The Spartans finished 2012 with a 9-4 record and a trip to the 4A state quarterfinals for the second year in a row.
They start 2013 with the first game in North Carolina against Charlotte Christian at Memorial Stadium at 5:30 on Thursday. The contest will be broadcast live on WFNZ 610AM radio and will air on tape delay at 11:30 p.m. on News 14 Carolina (Time Warner Cable), according to charlottepreps.tv/kickoff.com.
The Spartans should have an idea where they stand after facing the defending private school state champions.
"I think as a coaching staff and players we feel pretty good about it," Hall said. "We feel like everybody is on board with our philosophy and what we want to do offensively, defensively and on special teams. We've got people in place that have been repping two-deep at each position. We're healthy, which is always an obstacle. We've had a little bit of bumps and bruises but not a whole lot."
The reclassification dropped the Spartans back down to 3A, after being 4A for the first time in school history the last four seasons.
The Southern Carolina Conference remains a six-team league, with Cuthbertson and Piedmont replacing Porter Ridge and Parkwood.
The Spartans will be facing Cuthbertson for the first time ever, and none of the current players have ever met Piedmont.
The Spartans have a 7-2 record against the other three SCC schools over the past three years — Weddington, Marvin Ridge and Anson.
"We feel like we can compete for our conference championship," Hall said. "We feel like we can get into the playoffs and make some noise. ... The teams that get better throughout the year are the ones that will be there deep in the playoffs."
The Spartans have some questions but they are stacked with talent at most of the skill positions.
"These kids are hungry to play; we all are," Hall said. "I think these kids with the change to a new coach and things that are different, the kids want to do at least that good. They feel like they are a seasoned football team and are a very high confidence team."
The Spartans pack a lot of punch in the run game, led by junior tailback Albert Funderburk.
As a sophomore in 2012, Funderburk exploded onto the scene with over 200 yards against 4A North Carolina powerhouse Richmond County.
Funderburk went on to become the first sophomore in Union County history to eclipse 2,000 rushing yards in a season, finishing with 2,032. He led the county in rushing, and his 24 touchdowns were also a UC-high.
"There are things that we already knew about Albert when we came into this program," Hall said. "He's a good football player, a good kid and he's becoming a good leader to our offense and team. He is a competitor. He's not one to be lazy in practice. He doesn't mind taking the reps, he doesn't mind going against the first or second group. He's a team player and wants to win. His first objective is our team winning and then all of the individual accomplishments will come after that."
Funderburk, who has a scholarship offer from Duke, is excited for the first game against the Knights. He knows the defense will be geared up to stop him.
"It creates a challenge that I'm willing to step up and accept," Funderburk said. "I like the challenge. I want to play against the best of the best. That way I can show that I am the best."
Funderburk will be leaned upon heavily to take pressure off first-year starting quarterback Ryan Tapp.
Tapp, who is listed at 6-foot-8 and 235 pounds, has focused on baseball in high school.
He's playing football for the first time as a senior and was third on the depth chart at QB when preseason camp started behind Isah Meric and Drew Swoope.
Tapp had to adjust his throwing motion to play quarterback.
He started out throwing a wobbly ball but is now throwing a consistently-tight spiral.
"I've been practicing a lot, working on my throwing motion," Tapp said. "I've been playing a lot of baseball which has helped strengthen up my arm. It's all about coming out and practicing every day. It was a little tough in the beginning, the ball was kind of waggling."
Tapp knows he has the athletes around him to take the pressure off, and that has given him confidence going into the game against Charlotte Christian.
"I'm feeling pretty good about it," he said. "We have good wide receivers that run good routes. ... They've helped teach me the new plays. It's really been a team effort. As long as we play the way we should we'll be fine,"
Though Tapp has won the right to start, Hall said he still considers it a competition at quarterback.
"Even to this day we're going to let them all compete in practice," Hall said. "Nobody's position is a definite when it comes to competing. I feel like when you can put people in position to compete with each other, you can make the other one better. Right now we feel like Ryan gives us the best opportunity to be successful with the offense we're running. The other two guys, Meric and Swoope, are going to get reps. I can see that both are going to be prepared to go into the game at any time. We're pleased with the way that's going."
Sun Valley will open the season without the team's top returning receiver. Senior Nigel Wiley has been suspended for the first two games for disciplinary reasons.
The offensive line that will be counted on to open holes for Funderburk and give time Tapp time to throw is the biggest in Union County, as usual.
The Spartans' offensive line averages roughly 6-foot-1.5 and 260 pounds.
"Right now we're just looking for the right guys," Funderburk said. "If we're getting the push up front we'll be good. They are working hard, going through all of their steps. They work hard on the field and in the weight room."
Funderburk is keeping his goals high, and said their are other backs who can do damage as well.
"I'm trying to get back over 2,000," he said. "You got me, PJ (Lotharp), my little brother Fabrice (Funderburk) and Jeremiah Miller. They are all good. They bring something different to the field."
Sun Valley's defense allowed 26.5 points per game last season, but the Spartans definitely played the toughest schedule in the county.
Take away the lopsided losses to Richmond County and Mallard Creek and the average points allowed drops to 20.5. In four of the nine wins, SV held its opponent to 14 points or less.
Senior Brian Teutonico leads the Spartans' defense from his spot as middle linebacker.
"We understand what's going on and it allows us to go to work and work hard," Teutonico said. "I'm feeling good. Our linebackers are looking good, we're becoming solid. I feel like just a little bit more improvement and we'll be good to go."
Hall likes the athleticism and effort he's seen on that side of the ball.
"Our defense has really made some gains since I've been here," Hall said. "They've really shown a lot of aggression. They like to fly to the football. We have some leadership in our linebacker corps with Brian and Corey (Plesher). Our defensive line are veterans. The defensive backs got a lot of reps last year and they're confident. They feel they can go in and compete with anybody on our schedule. That goes a long way. You don't have to prove to our defense that they feel like they can stop someone. We love the mentality."
Teutonico goes into every practice trying to set the tone. "I've just been trying to go 100 percent from my stand point," he said. "If the guys see that they will normally go as hard as they can as well. We're just going to take it game by game and try to shut down every offense we come up against. We just need to pound them. We need to go hard, physical, aggressive. If we do that we'll be in good shape."
Like Tapp on offense, senior Jay Rowell is playing football for the first time and is slated to start at linebacker.
Rowell, who plays on the basketball team, has brought an aggressive attitude.
"He's new but he is a real physical guy," Teutonico said of Rowell. "He came in and started hitting people right away. Honestly, I think he is going to do a good job."
Sun Valley Spartans Projected Starters
Sun Valley's 2013 schedule
Aug. 22^vs. Charlotte Christian @ Memorial Stadium
Aug. 30^Hoke County
Sept. 6^at Rocky River
Sept. 13^East Bladen
Sept. 20^Porter Ridge
Oct. 18^at Marvin Ridge
Oct. 25^at Weddington
Nov. 8^at Anson
Sun Valley's 2012 results
Richmond 56, Sun Valley 28
Mallard Creek 62, Sun Valley 10
Sun Valley 25, Windsor Forest 7
Sun Valley 42, Garinger 0
Sun Valley 65, Red Springs 18
Sun Valley 56, Anson 28
Sun Valley 17, Marvin Ridge 14
Sun Valley 60, Parkwood 7
Sun Valley 49, Weddington 42
Porter Ridge 16, Sun Valley 0
2012 4A State Playoffs
Sun Valley 37, TC Roberson 31
Sun Valley 56, South Caldwell 35
Porter Ridge 28, Sun Valley 21