02/14/13 — North Duplin's Rouse inks NLI with Wingate

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North Duplin's Rouse inks NLI with Wingate

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on February 14, 2013 1:47 PM

Lee Rouse found it all during his visit to Wingate University -- a small-school atmosphere, a close-knit team and family values.

Plus, he could play defense.

The North Duplin senior couldn't have asked for anything more and signed a national letter-of-intent (NLI) with to play football next fall for the Bulldogs on Wednesday afternoon. Rouse, the 17-year-old son of Jimmy and Brandi Rouse, received interest from UNC Pembroke, Campbell, Averett (Va.) University and Methodist University.

During his recruiting trip, Rouse spoke with the coaching staff about offensive line play. When they learned the 6-foot-4, 280-pounder had played defense, they immediately started talking about Rouse's favorite part of the game.

"When they said something about playing defensive tackle, I jumped at the chance," said Rouse, who worked as a two-way starter on the line during his prep career. "I'd rather be the one hitting instead of the one getting hit."

Rouse earned all-Carolina 1-A Conference accolades this fall after logging 28 tackles and recovering a fumble on a defense that forced 16 total turnovers. He finished with 62 tackles, four fumble recoveries and an interception for his career.

The Rebels recorded 24 victories and made four trips to the N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 1-A (small-school) football playoffs during Rouse's time on both sides of the ball.

Wingate finished 6-5 overall last season, including a 5-2 worksheet in Division II South Atlantic Conference play. The Bulldogs won the program's lone SAC championship in 2010.

"The things they talk about and emphasize in their program are things we try to emphasize -- a lot of closeness, talk about family and I think that really appealed to Lee," North Duplin head coach Hugh Martin said. "It's been a good fit for him. I think he's got a tremendous amount of potential."

Rouse's biggest asset is his work ethic that he's shown in the weight room and workouts related to football. He understands he must get stronger and quicker due to the faster pace of the college game.

Once his body matures, his skill set will improve.

"It's more of a setback I think because I'm a year younger than everybody else (coming in)," said Rouse, who anticipates a possible red-shirt season. "Playing against older players makes a huge difference. Even in high school football, I was 13 and playing as a freshman, which was something I had to adjust to."