Mar. 29, 2014 @ 01:06 AM

Southern High School celebrated its first state football title in style Friday, presenting state championship rings to players, coaches, school officials and program associates.

On hand for the elaborate two-hour ceremony in the school theater were guest speakers who included departed state title coach Adrian Jones, school coaching legends Chip Gill and Pete Shankle, new coach Darius Robinson and several hundred fans, cheerleaders, marching band and dance team.

Not to mention the 41 players who made the day possible.

They were treated to a video montage tribute recalling the 3-AA state championship win at BB&T Field in Winston-Salem in December and performances by the dance team, cheerleaders and band.

Southern School of Energy and Sustainability — Southern’s official name — principal Kenneth Barnes drew a few laughs during his welcoming remarks when he made it clear the ring presentation evening couldn’t have come sooner. Barnes admitted that players and coaches have pestered him for months asking when the rings would arrive.

Robinson, Southern’s athletic director who moved up from defensive coordinator to the head coaching job when Jones left to become an aide at N.C. Central after the season, admitted he was among the impatient.

“Since the first day after the state championship,” he said, speaking of the demand for the rings, adding that he told his players to be patient. “It takes time to put together a quality program and a quality ring.”

He congratulated his players on their accomplishment.

“You won a state championship for the first time — ever, and you did in the the centennial year of the NCHSAA,” Robinson told his new team, remarking on the special significance of their forthcoming rings.

“For the rest of your lives, every day you look in the mirror and you can say, ‘I accomplished something.’”

Robinson had kind words for Gill and Shankle, too. He pointed out before the ceremony that Shankle, now Voyager Academy’s baseball coach, was Adrian Jones’ position coach while Jones played at Southern and Gill was Jones’ head coach.

“They’re (Gill and Shankle) the foundation this program was built on,” Robinson said. “We wanted them to be here.”

Robinson admitted that coordinating Friday’s program was a daunting task.

“I’d rather gameplan for a football game than gameplan for this,” he said, laughing, as he watched the 40-odd state champion players jockey for position to enter the school’s theater.

Robinson said he’s impressed on his returning players, including stars quarterback Kendall Hinton, running back William Cameron, running back/receiver Jordan Brown and a host of defensive stars, that getting another state title would be a monumental undertaking, one they’ve got to prepare for now.

“I told them they’ve got a bull’s-eye on their backs and they’re going to have to work that much harder,” Robinson said.

Looking ahead, he acknowledged that the graduations of star receivers Maurice Trowell (N.C. State signee) and Derrick Mason (N.C. Central signee) will hurt, but the losses of three key offensive linemen — Khalif Dean, Devonta Lynch and Noah Chase — will need to be addressed as well.

But he said that offensive line coach Montaze McRae had done an outstanding job building line depth and that should pay dividends this fall.

While the offense grabs the headlines, it’s the defensive core of returning cornerbacks Jeremy Griffis, Kaleb Barfield, the starting line of Tyler Herbert, Christian Howze, Tahj Spivey and Montreal Cherry and free safety Marvin Tillman that could keep the Spartans on top.

“We’ve got a lot of experience back and they’ll be key guys for us,” Robinson said.

NOTES — Hinton, rated a 3-star QB prospect by Scout.com, holds scholarship offers from Duke, N.C. State, Appalachian State, East Carolina and N.C. Central, Robinson said. His junior star is looking forward to an offer from North Carolina as well, one that hasn’t come already due largely to a change in quarterback coaches at UNC this offseason. Robinson said Hinton has decided to play for a local school, that he doesn’t want to leave the area, but that he hasn’t made any decisions yet.