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Take a chance on him

It’s crazy how much can happen in a year-and-a-half.

Landon Stevens was the new kid on the block when he joined East Surry’s football team prior to the 2018 season. Heading into his junior season, Stevens was an athlete trying to fit into the scheme of an East Surry team that returned many of its key players from the previous year.

Another newcomer to the Cardinals was Trent Lowman, who accepted the position of head coach the previous spring. Lowman had the idea to try Stevens at wide receiver. Everything worked out excellently for Stevens at the position as he spent the next two seasons becoming a two-time member of the Northwest 1A All-Conference Team, a state champion and a record-holder in both the East Surry and North Carolina High School Athletic Association all-time rankings.

Thanks to his success at East Surry, Stevens can add Division-I college football player to his resume. Joined by family, coaches and teammates, Stevens officially signed his National Letter of Intent with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in December.

“That’s something to reflect back on, for sure,” Lowman said. “Landon had never played receiver before his junior year. He had all of the necessary athleticism, but he had to learn things like form, stance and some of the little things from scratch. He actually didn’t start for almost half the year.”

Even including his time adjusting to the position, Stevens went on to become East Surry’s all-time leading receiver with 2,330 yards receiving. Elsewhere in the school record book, Stevens is second in single-season receiving TDs (21 in 2019), second in career receiving TDs (26), second and fourth in single-season yards receiving (1,459 in 2019, 871 in 2018), second and tied for third in yards receiving in a game (225 vs. Mount Airy 2019, 210 vs. Mount Airy 2018), tied for second and 11th in single-season receptions (61 in 2019, 34 in 2018) and third in career receptions (95).

The East Surry offense in 2018 wasn’t nearly as high-flying as it was in 2019. In 2018, the Cardinals totalled 149 receptions for 2,764 yards receiving and 32 receiving TDs. He only totalled five catches in the first three games of the season, but Lowman saw his potential as a deep threat immediately.

Stevens’ speed allowed him to leave the opposing secondary in the dust. He had catches of 36, 43 and 67 yards before the Cards even began conference play. His low usage wasn’t because of his ability, but rather the offense then moved primarily on the ground. When East did pass the ball, it was on screen passes or slant routes.

As the season progressed into conference play, Lowman felt more and more comfortable giving Stephen Gosnell and Jefferson Boaz, the two quarterbacks, the green light to make deep looks. Stevens scored in each conference game except for one, which the Cardinals won 70-6.

This all culminated with a record-setting performance in the conference championship game against Mount Airy. Before this, Stevens’ career-high in yards receiving was 92. He exploded for a then-record 210 yards receiving and a TD. What’s more impressive is that he did so with just four receptions for an average of 52.5 yards per catch.

“He is as good a deep-ball post runner as I’ve ever seen,” Lowman said. “He’ll run past just about anyone the other team puts on him in man. Go back and watch Jefferson throw a pass to what seems like no one downfield and you’ll see Landon run it down.”

Stevens went on to have another 100-yard game in the postseason when he had four catches for 132 yards in the regional final. Although he wasn’t able to rack up big numbers in the 2018 state championship against Tarboro, the Cardinal coaching staff was already salivating at Stevens’ potential for the 2019 season.

The balanced offense of 2018 was no more, as the Cardinals worked to establish a pass-heavy unit. Boaz made the permanent move to QB, while Stevens was joined by Dillon Mosley, Kyler Jessup, and Stephen and Benji Gosnell as receivers. It took time to adjust, however, as Stevens was the only consistent deep threat the previous season while Mosley led the team in catches.

The first few games of the 2019 season saw the Cardinals put up extraordinary passing numbers on offense as Boaz learned how to incorporate all the different receivers. Stevens started with just 15 yards receiving in the season opener. That number slowly grew to 40, then 59, 62 and 83 as the season progressed. He also had at least one TD catch in every game, which contributed to a record we’ll get too soon.

Then came the Reidsville game. In a match-up many called the biggest in school history, the Cardinals went on the road to face the defending 2A state champs and winners of 43-straight regular season games. Lowman said he needed his guys to step up in that game, and that’s exactly what they did.

Against the physical Reidsville defense, Stevens grabbed a career-high 134 yards and a touchdown to show he had arrived. Stevens went on to record at least 128 yards receiving in six of the next eight games and account for 13 touchdowns in the same span. Lowman said the Reidsville game was a turning point for Landon and was the moment colleges, especially UNC, started to take him seriously.

“That Reidsville game showed just how far he’d come as a receiver in just a year,” Lowman said. “He’s phenomenal, he’s raw and he’s only getting better. I’m so glad someone believed in him and was willing to take a chance.”

In addition to East Surry’s school record book, Landon Stevens will live on in the North Carolina High School Athletic Association’s record book in three places. Stevens is now second all-time in consecutive games with a TD reception (12 in 2019), 14th in single-season touchdown receptions (21 in 2019) and 28th in single-season receiving yards (1,459 in 2019). According to Lowman, he’s just getting started.

“He’s only done this for two years and is a D-I receiver now. I can’t wait to see what’s next for Landon.”

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East Surry senior Landon Stevens is joined by his family before signing his NLI with UNC: back row – Logan Stevens, Mike Marshall, Kaitlyn Marshall, Olivia Marshall, Marsha Marshall and Linda Stevens. Front row – Amy Stevens, Landon Stevens and Vincent Stevens.
https://www.mtairynews.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/web1_DSC_0678-2-.jpgEast Surry senior Landon Stevens is joined by his family before signing his NLI with UNC: back row – Logan Stevens, Mike Marshall, Kaitlyn Marshall, Olivia Marshall, Marsha Marshall and Linda Stevens. Front row – Amy Stevens, Landon Stevens and Vincent Stevens. Cory Smith | The News

Landon Stevens is joined by his family and coaches as he signs his National Letter of Intent to play football with UNC-Chapel Hill.
https://www.mtairynews.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/web1_DSC_0673-2-.jpgLandon Stevens is joined by his family and coaches as he signs his National Letter of Intent to play football with UNC-Chapel Hill. Cory Smith | The News

In just two years as a receiver, Landon Stevens became one of the best in county history to ever play the position.
https://www.mtairynews.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/web1_000_3476.jpgIn just two years as a receiver, Landon Stevens became one of the best in county history to ever play the position. Charles Leftwich | Special to the News
Landon Stevens’ journey to become a D-I receivier

By Cory Smith

csmith@mtairynews.com

Reach Cory on Twitter @MrCoryLeeSmith

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Source: https://www.mtairynews.com

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