UNDER A DREARY, smoke-colored canopy yesterday afternoon, Mastery North outlasted Murrell Dobbins Tech, 15-0, on a muddy field that led to difficult traction and largely unattractive offense.
Including turnovers on downs, the Public League Class AAA matchup had 11 giveaways. Dobbins lost three fumbles and was intercepted twice, while Mastery lost two fumbles and was intercepted once.
But from the muck and mire, a leader emerged. Jermaine Norris, a senior, do-it-all captain for Mastery (6-1), finished with four catches for 109 yards and the game's only offensive touchdown.
He also pilfered his 14th interception in the last two seasons, and even tossed a two-point conversion after bobbling the extra-point snap following Idris Mateen's interception return for a score in the fourth quarter.
"My role is as big as everybody else's," said the 5-11, 170-pound free safety. "We play together, we practice together, we win together. That's how I see it."
That humility is partly why Norris has been a 3-year captain on the 3-year-old program.
Mastery head coach John Davidson describes Norris as a quiet young man who will "carry bags, carry water bottles and wash out water jugs."
Yesterday, he helped carry the offense. His 109 receiving yards were slightly more than half of the team's 216 total. In fact, Norris and Armani Fuller-Williams' 88 rushing yards on 19 carries constituted 197 of that sum.
Including the 32-0 loss to Gratz last week, Dobbins was dealt consecutive shutouts for the first time since 1988 (14-0 to BOK, and 34-0 to Central).
The ball didn't matriculate much in the first half, as the teams combined to give it away six times in the second quarter alone.
Two sequences typified the night. First, an interception by Dobbins junior defensive back Diamir Copes was followed by Copes, who also plays quarterback, losing control of the snap on the ensuing play. Aasim Morton, a 5-6, 237-pound senior, recovered for Mastery.
On that same Mastery drive, another fumble, this time recovered by Dobbins' Kahleef Parris, was followed by another fumble, again on the ensuing play. Mateen recovered for Mastery.
The slop-fest was scoreless at the half, but Norris wasn't worried.
"We just had to be patient and let the ball come to us," he said.
Fuller-Williams had 87 second-half rushing yards, and he even had a 77-yard touchdown run called back in the third because his coach accidentally tripped a sideline official and was flagged for being too close to the field.
Divine Epps and Rashaun Collins ran hard for Dobbins for 26 and 30 yards respectively, but the Mastery defense, led by Norris, was too much. One of the top defensive backs in the city, Norris said he is receiving varying degrees of interest from Old Dominion, Syracuse, Temple, Penn State and Stony Brook. And although he is also a capable receiver, Norris prefers the physicality of defense.
He hopes to make college visits soon, and said his main concern is getting an education.
A 3.0 student now, Norris revealed what drives him in the classroom. "What inspires me in school is really my struggle . . . it's not the [worst] but I struggle financially at home," he said. "But that just helps to motivate me to get my family out of where I'm living now."
His older brother, James, 19, is in the National Guard. His 14-year-old brother, Gordon, also goes to Mastery and hopes to one day play on the football team. He also has a sister, Alexis, 16, who is a cheerleader.
Norris lives with his siblings and his mother Tunisia, 39, near Wyoming Avenue, and said he learned leadership skills and generosity from his mother.
"I like helping people," he said. "If people need it, and I have it, then they can have it. My mom, she's like that now. Even though it's a struggle right now, if [we] need something and she has it, she'll give it to us."
On Twitter: @AcecarterDN