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Within the sports realm, numbers don’t necessarily define greatness.
Admittedly, they certainly help validate the process.
But gaudy numbers are not the reason that Mark Pittman and Jerome Staton, high school football stalwarts from the early 1980s, formed the 13th induction class for the SouthWest Edgecombe High School Athletic Hall of Fame earlier this week.
Pittman and Staton now reside in their school’s hall of fame because they were the genuine, if you will, real deal. Each embodied the hard-nosed football player determined to defeat the opposition every time out.
During the 1982, 1983 and 1984 seasons for the Cougars, they accomplished that task 34 out of 39 times.
During the induction ceremony, the introductory material from SouthWest athletic director Sandra Langley included sparse mention of numbers.
Of course, both left their statistical impact, but Jimmy Tillman, their head coach, is probably more familiar than they with their numbers.
Staton, at 6-foot-1, 195 pounds, remains SouthWest’s career rushing leader with somewhere in the vicinity of 5,000 yards — including 380 in one game — in three seasons. His career touchdown total is up there, but Staton admits he can’t specifically recollect.
Pittman, a 5-foot-10, 165-pound linebacker, probably averaged more than 10 tackles per contest. Tillman reports he amassed 28 stops in a playoff game against Tarboro.
NO SELFISH VALUES
Neither takes away selfish values from a remarkable high school athletic experience.
Pittman and Staton talk about the privilege of playing archrival Tarboro in the Function at the Junction. They express respect for one another; they place their coach, Tillman, on a special pedestal; and they extoll the championships, awards and spoils that resulted from a dedicated team effort.
Tillman, now the Wilson County Schools athletic director and, for 11 seasons, SouthWest’s head coach, hails Staton as the best running back he has ever coached.
Furthermore, Tillman ranks Pittman, now a member of the Fike High coaching staff, as the best all-around football player he has ever coached.
Now, folks, consider that Tillman coached SouthWest’s Yancey Thigpen, a standout receiver in the National Football League for many years.
“They were great kids,” Tillman reflected. “They worked all day long in tobacco fields and came to practice every day and did their jobs. They worked really hard in the weight room. They were outstanding football players.
“If you stayed between the two white lines, MP (Pittman) was going to get you.”
Staton mentioned Tillman as “a great inspiration. He pushed and developed me — not just in football but in life. He let you know that you had to work hard and be committed. He never allowed you to let up.”
Added Pittman: “Coach Tillman was like a father figure. He was just an all-around great person. He was always there for you. He was a man you can’t forget.”
Of his impression of Staton, Pittman commented: “He’s one of the best to ever have been through SouthWest. He set the stage; he was wonderful.
“He never complained about getting the ball or not getting the ball. And Coach Tillman was not going to let him do that, anyway. It was a team effort.”
Of Pittman, Staton remarked: “He ran the defense and I pretty much ran the offense.”
Staton laughed and continued: “It was Jerome left, Jerome right and Jerome up the middle.”
Staton’s extent of speaking of personal highlights is being named Adidas All-America and being selected for the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas.
“Important for me was being able to give a little more each season and see the improvement,” he added. “It was great meeting other talent (in the Shrine Bowl).”
Staton abandoned football after two seasons at North Carolina State University.
“My only regret is not sticking with it,” he admitted.
However, Pittman speaks of no regrets. He cherishes the bond among teammates and the personalities of each of the three teams.
“I appreciate most my teammates,” he declared. “They were always there for me. No selfishness and nobody complained.”
Being selected for and playing in the East-West All-Star Classic is unforgettable.
“I was glad I was able to play in it,” he expressed. “Looking at some of the players selected and to be among them was great.”
Tillman assures he remembers the “fun times” of three consecutive championship seasons and “two great football players to have on the same team at the same time.”
The recognition is arguably past due, but the Nos. 28 and 29 inductees into the SouthWest Edgecombe Athletic Hall of Fame are richly deserving.