By Brian Eller -- firstname.lastname@example.org
STEPHENS CITY -- Thunder and lightning.
To most football fans, the phrase brings memories of the former New York Giants running back tandem of Ron Dayne and Tiki Barber.
But at Sherando High School, two seniors are quickly becoming the latest duo to achieve that nickname. Behind running backs Roger Smith, the powerful north-south tailback, and Kadeem Blackwood, the speedy, more agile runner, the Warriors are out to a 3-0 start, and have rallied behind the play of the complementing backs to put points on the board.
"Kadeem is a change-of-pace kid that has the ability to take it and score any time because he's so explosive," Sherando head coach Bill Hall said. "He's a good athlete, very quick. He runs a 4.5 40 [yard dash], so if he get that open space he can take it to the house. [Smith] plays in all of our personnel packages, but he's a little more of a downhill runner."
It's a system Hall said is effective because by using both running backs throughout the game, neither is in long enough to suffer fatigue, giving the Warriors' offense the option of using either back late in games. Together Smith and Blackwood have rushed for more than 400 yards through three games this season, and have scored five touchdowns.
But having more than one running back that can move the ball also creates never-ending competition on the offense. Hall said each running back knows if he isn't performing up to standards, there's another player right behind him eager to get on the field.
"I think that's what's good about this football team, is that we have competition at all of our positions," Hall said. "As a result, that makes us better as a team, but specifically to running backs, they know they each bring a little something different, but they know they're competing and we've got faith in all of the guys."
Along with having constant position battles, the Warriors are also fortunate to have a roster that is deep with seniors. This season the team features 25 upperclassmen, which gives Hall the comfort of knowing his team is mature in a lot of aspects of the game, and have been around long enough to know how a team should handle itself on and off the field.
"I think last year's juniors did a good job learning some of the things maybe we should've done differently, in terms of leadership perspective," Hall said. "And I think this group is more focused on the week at hand. That's always been our motto around here, is just focusing on who we have, and not overlooking anybody. I think if you're ever going to be successful in the postseason, you have to get better every week, no matter if you're playing someone who's undefeated or doesn't have any wins. It's something you have to do every single week."
And while the new "thunder and lightning" have been a force on offense this year, it's been the play of quarterback Corey Rice that's also given Sherando optimism heading into tonight's matchup against Loudoun County.
Rice replaced quarterback Ross Metheny, who threw for more than 1,300 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2008. This season, however, Rice has been progressing through the first three games, and according to Hall, the senior is starting to show the signs of hard work he put in during the offseason.
"Where I've been pleased with him is he's done a good job in preparing weekly," Hall said. "He and I meet every day, and he's learning from, not only the things he's doing well but also his mistakes, and he's not making the same mistake again, which is all you can ask."