The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Sports - BY LANGSTON WERTZ JR. lw­[email protected]­lot­teob­server.com Wertz: 704-358-5133; @langston­wertzjr

Five years ago, Belmont South Point High football coach Adam Hodge took his father out for Sun­day din­ner at a lo­cal buf­fet called Cat­fish Cove.

An eighth-grader named Larry Dowdy was com­ing in with his fam­ily. Hodge had heard all about the ex­tra-large mid­dle-schooler who would soon be at his school. But see­ing him in per­son — and Dowdy was maybe 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds then — was a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent.

“Larry came in the door and I said, ‘Daddy, you see that boy right there,’” Hodge said. “And he said, ‘Yes. What grade is he in?’ I told him he was in eighth and he said, ‘Wow, he’s a big young ‘un.’ ”

Of course, Hodge knows that great size doesn’t al­ways equate to be­ing a great football player. But by the time Dowdy got to South Point and Hodge got a chance to see his foot­work, de­ter­mi­na­tion and work ethic up close and per­sonal, he knew he had a spe­cial player.

Dowdy is now 6-4, 280 pounds. He’s com­mit­ted to Ge­or­gia Tech, where he plans to at­tend busi­ness school. When Dowdy signs later this year or in Fe­bru­ary, he’ll re­port­edly be the first North Carolina player to sign with the Yel­low Jack­ets since Raleigh Mill­brook running back Mar­cus Mar­shall in 2015. Mar­shall is now at James Madi­son.

Ge­or­gia Tech ap­pealed to Dowdy since his fresh­man sea­son be­cause of its elite busi­ness school and the op­tion-style of­fense that’s nearly a car­bon copy of what he’s played in at South Point. Dowdy took two vis­its to Tech’s cam­pus after his all-state ju­nior sea­son ended.

So when Tech of­fered him as a pri­or­ity re­cruit last May, Dowdy called the next day to com­mit.

“Ge­or­gia Tech was al­ways at the top of my list,” Dowdy said. “And com­mit­ting takes a lot of stress off my shoul­ders. Not hav­ing to go to camps and be­ing able to fo­cus on my team this year was great.”

At South Point, Dowdy has started since his fresh­man sea­son. In his first game as a ninth-grader, he was so over­anx­ious he jumped off-sides three times in a row against Lin­col­nton. His team lost 15 yards be­fore it could run a play.

But then-coach Mickey Lineberger stuck with Dowdy at tackle and the team has gone 37-8 with two state-cham­pi­onship game ap­pear­ances plus the 2016 N.C. 3A cham­pi­onship.

In 2015, Dowdy’s fresh­man sea­son, he was the only fresh­man starter on a state run­ner-up. In 39 years of coach­ing at that point, Lineberger said Dowdy was only the sec­ond fresh­man of­fen­sive line­man to start for him.

And he’s kept get­ting bet­ter.

“I have been here 15 years and he’s one of the best I’ve ever coached or seen,” Hodges said. “But the thing about Larry is he’s such a good kid. Larry’s a great player, but not many have the grades (3.7 GPA) or char­ac­ter that he has. To go to a place like Ge­or­gia Tech is quite an honor. They have a pretty pres­ti­gious aca­demic pro­gram and most peo­ple that go there do fairly well in life.”

Hodge said Dowdy’s big­gest strength is how he fin­ishes plays. Some guys, he said, will hit you once; some will hit you twice. He says Dowdy just doesn’t stop.

“He’s a great fin­isher,” Hodge said. “That’s the big­gest thing that sets him off. He just fin­ishes the play well.”

Dowdy also wants to fin­ish his ca­reer well.

Re­mem­ber, as a fresh­man he lost in the state fi­nals. As a sopho­more, his team won the cham­pi­onship.

His ju­nior year, then, stands as an anom­aly.

South Point was 12-0 and ranked No. 1 in the N.C. 2A polls when it lost to Shelby in the sec­ond round of the 2017 play­offs. And the Red Raiders had beaten Shelby 35-15 two weeks ear­lier in a reg­u­larsea­son meet­ing. The loss ended a Gas­ton Coun­tyrecord 22-game win streak and gave South Point a cause to rally around this sea­son.

The Red Raiders grad­u­ated 15 starters, but Hodge — a sec­ond-year coach who played at the school — thinks his team has plenty of tal­ent, just tal­ent you haven’t heard of. Yet.

South Point also has Dowdy, who is de­ter­mined to fin­ish his se­nior sea­son the way he rou­tinely fin­ishes off de­fen­sive line­men.

“We might not have as much re­turn­ing tal­ent as we al­ways had, but we’re re­ally to­gether as a team,” Dowdy said. “We are go­ing to have a lot more love in (the locker room). The best thing that’s hap­pened to me was win­ning the 2016 state. The tough­est was los­ing my fresh­man year. I didn’t be­lieve we could lose. It caught me off guard.

“It made made me a lot more de­ter­mined and fo­cused on what I re­ally wanted. Then we lost early last year.”

So can South Point get back to the fi­nals for a third time in his ca­reer? Dowdy grins, then laughs.

“I guess we’re go­ing to have to find out.”

LANGSTON WERTZ JR. lw­[email protected]­lot­teob­server.com

Belmont South Point’s Larry Dowdy was a top-75 re­cruit in North Carolina be­fore he com­mit­ted to Ge­or­gia Tech.

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