The Commercial Appeal

New football coach Rocconi inherits talent-laden roster at White Station

- JOHN VARLAS

Joe Rocconi knows he’s reading straight from the coaching cliché handbook, but he can’t help it.

“I’m just worried about that first one,” he said.

The first one for Rocconi, the newly hired football coach at White Station, is worry enough. The Spartans open the season Aug. 23 with a visit to perennial Mississipp­i powerhouse South Panola.

The next week sees a visit from Murfreesbo­ro Oakland and the Spartans will also take on Memphis University School and Christian Brothers, along with the typically tough 16-AAA schedule that features Class 6A state champion Whitehaven.

But unlike many firstyear coaches, Rocconi isn’t undertakin­g a complete rebuilding project. He’ll inherit a talented squad, headed by perhaps the state’s top linebacker, senior Petera Wilson.

“I’m extremely excited for the opportunit­y,” he said. “Of course, I know the circumstan­ces in which the job came open. It was an unusual time, but fortunatel­y for me I was looking for a job.

“Not only is it a topnotch academic school, but it has a strong, competitiv­e football program with hardworkin­g kids.”

Rocconi replaces Devin Rutherford, who resigned

ON PREPS

last month amid allegation­s of player mistreatme­nt. Rocconi spent the last three years as the head coach at St. Patrick’s Catholic in Biloxi, Miss., and also was the head coach at Rossville Christian.

A Colliervil­le graduate, Rocconi played at the University of Memphis from 1995-99 as a linebacker under Rip Scherer. But don’t think Rocconi’s sole focus will be on defense.

“Of course, defense will always be close to my heart,” he said. “But I’m going to be the offensive coordinato­r, too. I’ve studied offenses for the last 10 years. ... We’re going to be creative and I think the kids are going to like our schemes.

“All I ask for is relentless energy and unselfishn­ess. If you can get any kid to buy into that, you’ve got a good platform (for success).”

MUS STANDOUT 2ND AT TRIALS

Budget constraint­s will be keeping Carlton Orange from represent- ing the United States at the World Youth Games i n Donetsk, Ukraine, next month. But the MUS standout is still on the fast track.

Orange, who will be a junior in the fall, finished second in his specialty, the 800 meters, at the USATF World Youth Track and Field Trials in Edwardsvil­le, Ill. His time of 1:51.56 set an MUS record.

“Since they’re on a tight budget, they can only take 40 athletes,” Orange said. “They reviewed all the races and decided they would take those who they thought had the best chance to (medal).

“And since I finished second, I guess they felt like I didn’t have a good chance.” Disappoint­ed? “Oh my God, I was so disappoint­ed,” he said. “But I’m just going to keep moving forward.”

Extra rest was the key to Orange’s stellar effort last week. He said that during the school season, he often runs the 800 after competing in the 3,200 relay but was able to “run fresh” at the trials.

“I wasn’t as tired,” he said. “I trailed behind the leader and was able to kick at 300 meters. I’ve been working on my form, helping to conserve my energy.”

EX-WHITEHAVEN STAR HOLDING FREE CAMP

Going to college was an eye-opener for Gene Robinson. Now, the former Whitehaven football star is hoping to open some eyes in the community where he made his name.

Robinson, who graduated from North Carolina in May and is now president and CEO of GENEtics Sports Management, will host a free football camp July 6 at Whitehaven Stadium, open to kids ages 1017 but limited to 150 slots.

“I wouldn’t have made it to college without the support system I had,” said Robinson. “This camp is for everybody, not just football players. I’m wanting to promote a healthy, drug-free, violence-free lifestyle.

“I want this to be a very positive experience for the youth in the community.”

Robinson will have law enforcemen­t officers speak at the camp. And football will be covered too, with Tennessee Titans linebacker Zach Brown — Robinson’s former Tar Heels teammate — scheduled to attend, with former Whitehaven standouts.

Registrati­on begins at 8 a.m. with the camp running from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

To reach John Varlas, call 901-

commercial­appeal.com.

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