Aug. 15, 2013 @ 07:35 PM

It’s not a move down to 3-A, just a move to 3A.

“This conference we’re going in is a great conference, very competitive conference,” Southern coach Adrian Jones said. “From top to bottom, we have to be prepared to play every week.”

Southern has been assigned to the new Big Eight 3-A Conference, which includes Chapel Hill, Cedar Ridge, Orange, Northwood, Oxford Webb, Northern Vance and Cardinal Gibbons, and the move does not mean that the Spartans’ ability to play football has started to diminish, Jones said.

Schools are reclassified by the state high school athletic association based on fluctuations in the student enrollment numbers. A school with fewer students generally means a smaller pool from which to pull athletic talent.

“3-A is just as good as 4-A,” Jones said. “It’s just a numbers thing.”

Southern was 6-5 last season, losing 28-26 to Hoggard (Wilmington) in the first round of the 4A state playoffs, and finished second in the PAC-6 4-A to perennial state power Hillside.

The Spartans’ lone PAC-6 loss came in their conference opener at Hillside, an 18-13 heartbreaker.

As a PAC-6 member, Southern finished second to Hillside the last three seasons, but won the league title at 6-0 in 2009.

Jones says the Big Eight title will be up for grabs this year.

Big Eight member Cardinal Gibbons (Raleigh) last season won 11 straight games before its season ended in the second round of the playoffs after the loss of star quarterback Shawn Stankavage to injury. He’s back this fall.

Orange, Northwood and Chapel Hill were playoff teams, Orange making it to the final four in the state playoffs. Northwood and Cedar Ridge have joined the Big Eight after being reclassified from the 2-A to 3-A ranks.

Jones, in his seventh season as Southern’s head coach, said he has some athletes on the roster who could play Division I college football. Junior quarterback Kendall Hinton is one of them, having received a scholarship offer from Duke during his sophomore season, Jones said.

“It’s a blessing to have a kid to come in your program and start as a sophomore, and you’ve got him for two more years. He knows the system, and sky’s the limit for him,” Jones said. “It’s a great tool. It’s a great thing to have.”

N.C. State, South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Virginia are also “showing a lot of interest” in Hinton, Jones said.

Hinton’s book smarts and his experience under the Friday-night lights should have him playing even faster football this season.

“It makes the game easier to coach when you’ve got a guy like that as the triggerman,” Jones said

Hinton’s time in the 40-yard dash is in the mid-4.7 range, which is not particularly fast for a quarterback, Jones said.

“He’s actually a lot faster on the football field than he is running the 40,” Jones said.

Hinton and Southern wide receiver Maurice Trowell had a good thing going last season, playing toss for touchdowns.

Trowell, a senior, has committed to N.C. State.

Stopping the Spartans is not a matter of shutting off the air between Hinton and Trowell, Jones said. That’s no way to beat Southern, the coach said.

“You definitely won’t beat Southern, because (there’s) a guy by the name of Derrick Mason that had over 500 yards receiving last year,” Jones said.

Southern receiver Jason Henderson was a role player last season as a sophomore, but the Spartans need more from him, a 6-foot-1-inch pass catcher who can run once he hauls it in, Jones said.

Junior running back William Cameron has a scholarship offer from West Virginia.

“We also have a weapon by the name of Jordan Brown, who was a transfer from Northern High School who started ... there. He’ll be in the running back role, as well as a slot receiver,” Jones said. “We have more weapons now than we did last year.”

The Spartans will have to keep Hinton upright without offensive lineman Jalen Peterkin, who graduated. Southern does return five to the offensive line, part of that weaponry Jones referred to.

“They got their feet wet last year against (Fayetteville) Jack Britt and teams like that,” Jones said about his offensive linemen, including big, left tackle Noah Chase, who stands 6-5. Christian Houze, Devonta Lynch and Khalif Dean join Chase are also returning starters on the offensive line. “We are seasoned.”

And the Spartans are hungry.

“We have one thing in mind,” Jones said, referring to the state title. “That is our No. 1 goal, being state champs, and we’re going to talk about it from Aug. 1 all the way to December.”

NOTES — Former Southern running back Akeem Judd (5-11, 214, sophomore) is ranked by many the top junior-college running back in the country and has committed to the University of Mississippi, Jones said. He is currently playing at Georgia Military College with former Southern teammate linebacker LeGrande Harley.

N.C. A&T coach Rod Broadway raved about former Southern receiver Darren Bullock during the recent Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Football Press Luncheon in Norfolk, Va. Broadway said Bullock, an Aggies sophomore, catches everything that touches his hands. As a true freshman last year, he played in 11 games with four starts, had 239 yards receiving and one touchdown on 20 receptions and caught at least one pass in 10 straight games after being held without a reception on Sept. 1.

Jones said Judd and Bullock demonstrate that Southern’s football program is a place where solid football players are being developed.