08/22/11 — FOOTBALL TAB -- Self-deflating injuries provided lessons for area trio in 2010

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FOOTBALL TAB -- Self-deflating injuries provided lessons for area trio in 2010

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on August 22, 2011 1:47 PM

Nothing is more worrisome than a nagging injury that deflates your pride, and keeps you sidelined during practice and regular-season play.

Three area athletes -- Parker Jones, Devin Oliver and Tykwan Days -- know that disheartening feeling all too well. Each, at some point last season, felt that experience as they sat on the bench while their teammates worked for a victory on the field.

"It's not fun watching," said Jones, a senior quarterback at James Kenan.

Two concussions shelved Jones for the 2010 season, which ended with a second-round playoff loss at Goldsboro. Neurosurgeons encouraged Jones to sit out the Tigers' final game so he'd avoid a possible career-ending injury.

Jones didn't think twice.

"Since I did have my senior season and the rest of my life ahead of me, I'd be smart to sit out and recover," said Jones. "I didn't want to, but I had to. I don't want to get hurt any more."

Oliver hasn't forgotten the Princeton game.

What appeared to be a minor ankle injury could have turned disastrous for the North Duplin running back. X-rays revealed a severe fracture and had Oliver continued to play, he's not completely sure he'd be 100 percent healthy for his final season in Calypso.

"It hurts the team because we depend on each other to win," said Oliver.

Tendonitis in his knee annoyed Days throughout his junior campaign at Eastern Wayne. He suffered an ankle injury in mid-October in a two-point loss to Southern Wayne, which further compounded his misery.

Like Jones and Oliver, he didn't let the injuries affect him mentally. Days iced the injuries, constantly stretched and went for jogs around the neighborhood to bolster his conditioning.

"It's about dedication," smiled Days.

Dedication, indeed.

All three athletes worked diligently in the offseason on fundamentals and more importantly -- their mental state. Each is expected to emerge as a leader for their respective team this fall.

Jones accounted for nearly 2,100 yards of offense and 29 touchdowns for the Tigers last season. He didn't lose a single fumble in the 11 games he played and earned All-Tri-County 1-A Conference honors.

His top target a year ago, James Owens Jr., departed to the Division II Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association. But Jones has plenty of weapons left in an arsenal that will be part of a more-diversified offense in Warsaw.

That should take some pressure off Jones.

"The offense we've got is different and everybody is eager to learn it," said Jones. "James is an athlete and one of the best to ever walk onto this field, along with Jonathan (Webster). There are so many athletes who are younger and will be so good like (Daniel) Bostic and AJ (Frederick).

"I don't want it to be just me, but I want everybody to be a key part of the offense. I want every defensive coordinator to have to worry about me, all four receivers and on top of that, we've got a couple of good running backs.

"We all have to deliver."

Expect Oliver to produce along with Julio Mora this season.

In the offseason, Oliver added 15 pounds to his muscular frame and didn't lose an ounce of strength. He attended several different camps and spent most of time sweating through agility drills.

"All about footwork and speed," said Oliver.

No doubt.

Oliver rambled for 1,236 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, and is expected to surpass the 3,000-yard mark for his career this fall. He averaged 103 yards per outing and a whopping 8.24 yards a carry.

The Rebels anticipate most opposing defenses to keep a careful eye on No. 24 (Oliver) during each snap. But they can't forget about No. 40 (Mora) or any other skill player in North Duplin's various offensive sets.

Days admits his mental game must get better this season. He'll serve as one of Avner Clark's targets on offense and patrol the secondary as a safety after playing corner last season.

"I know I need to be more vocal and (show) leadership, which starts now," said Days. "You have to have leadership in your heart. If you don't have that, the team is not going to pull itself together. Instead of one individual doing his job, we all have to put in effort and want to do it.

"We have to be a family."

James Kenan is coming off consecutive seven-win seasons.

North Duplin posted its second straight five-victory campaign a year ago.

Eastern Wayne claimed a share of the Eastern Carolina 3-A Conference regular-season title -- its first since 1978 and just its second overall in program history.

Jones, Oliver and Days want the ring.

Who doesn't?

But each athlete also understands that their single job on Friday night leads to a bigger goal that goes beyond wins and losses. They want to play together as a team, create memories and enjoy the rewards that come with success.

"It's just a matter of playing together ... always," said Jones.