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Posted August 27, 2010 | Leave a comment
Tallent relying on deep backfield to carry the load
By Brian Eller - firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- On the first day of practice, something wasn't right for Warren County coach Tony Tallent. There was something, or rather someone, missing from the Wildcats' inaugural practice.
For the first time since taking over as Warren County's head coach, Tallent had to begin a season without tailback Marty Haley, a player Tallent had coached and developed over the years, a player who left his mark on the Wildcats program.
"I remember walking out on the practice field on the first day and I felt like something was missing," Tallent said. "It wasn't so much Marty's skills, but just his personality. He was a dynamic player and left a strong legacy of improvement here."
His personality was engaging. His skills, too, were something to be admired. Last season, although Warren County stumbled to a 3-7 season, Haley was part of a successful rushing attack, leading the Wildcats with just less than 1,000 yards on the ground and setting the bar high for potential successors.
Fortunately for Tallent, this year's corps of running backs has a realistic shot at raising the bar Haley set just one season ago. With junior Gage Steele and senior Damien Caison boasting a combination of speed and power, along with a handful of players ready to step in and make an impact, Tallent is hoping this year his offense will feature a multi-faceted run game.
"Hopefully it's a six- or seven-headed monster if we can get everything rolling right," Tallent said. "The nice thing is even with a couple of our younger backs, we feel we have three or four kids that can play the majority of the game at tailback, so that's one of our deepest positions. I don't feel like we have to anoint any one guy to carry us through."
While Tallent won't tab one guy as the main ballcarrier this season, the bulk of the load will likely fall on Steele. In 2009, Steele, then a sophomore, finished second on the team in rushing, accumulating 517 yards and four touchdowns. This year, however, Steele will be asked to shoulder more of the responsibilities, both at the running back position and on defense, where he led Warren County with 60 tackles as a linebacker last season.
"I did a lot of weight-lifting [in the offseason]," Steele said. "I stayed in the weight room most of the time, went to a lot of camps at James Madison and Virginia. I'm definitely ready to pick it up, though. Honestly, I think of myself more as a power back, but I'm definitely trying to be that mix guy. But I'm going to be ready to take whichever one they need me at."
With Steele aiming to be more of a speed back, the power will come from Caison, who is converting from the tight end position. The senior will ideally pound out the short yardage and keep Steele and the other backs fresh late in games.
"It's scary -- we're faster than we've ever been and we're bigger than we've ever been," Caison said. "We just have to put it all together and we have to want it more. We've got a couple of quick backs who will get in there after Gage and I wear [defenses] down. They're small, but they're quick."
Behind the thunder-lightning duo of Caison and Steele, the Wildcats will turn to any one of four backs who have shown potential so far in camp. Senior Darius Turner, junior Robert Camby and sophomores Jeff Budwash and Timmy Green each bring their own set of skills to the offensive picture and will help open up the playbook for the offense.
"The one thing is I don't think defenses will be able to key in on a certain type of runner they're going to face," Tallent said. "We're going to bring in multiple guys. Some guys are cut guys, some guys are shiftier and some guys are going to be a load to bring down."
Whoever is in the backfield for the Wildcats this season, the end result will hopefully leave defenses two steps behind. As for the running backs themselves, this season's potential has them dreaming big.
"It gives me chills just thinking about it," Steele said of the offense's potential. "It's really exciting and this is definitely the year we're going to make something happen."
BREAKING DOWN THE WILDCATS
League: Group A Evergreen District
Offense/Defense: Multiple I/4-4
Key returnees: QB Austin Schwarz, RB/LB Damien Caison, RB/LB Gage Steele, OL/DL A.J. Lockhart, OL/DL Ben Carey, OL/DL Mike Helmenski, WR/DL Jayme Perry, OL/DL Sam Eshleman
Key losses: RB/DB Marty Haley, WR/LB Chris Jenkins, WR/LB Will Hoffmaster, OL/DL Justin Ernst
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