By Brad Fauber
FRONT ROYAL -- Ask Skyline's Dayvon Haight what his goals were prior to the beginning of the 2012 football season, and the senior's answer is a simple one.
There isn't a single mention of numbers. No specific amount of touchdowns he expected to score or number of yards he hoped to rack up -- none of that matters to Haight.
"I just thought about having a sub-par season and just contributing as much as I could to this team," Haight said of his preseason goals before practice on Monday.
It's for this reason that the one person most surprised by Haight's success this season is probably Haight himself.
Last season, Haight was the Hawks' second-leading rusher behind quarterback Aaron Jeremiah. Haight's numbers were nothing special -- 398 yards on 77 carries and five touchdowns.
But last season was last season, and Haight, playing his first season at the varsity level, was simply another cog in the Multiple-I machine that head coach Heath Gilbert introduced to the Skyline offense prior to the 2011 campaign.
It took some time for Skyline to get acquainted with its new offensive game plan, which relies heavily on deception and misdirection, but the Hawks have found comfort in their new scheme.
Perhaps no one on the Skyline offense is more comfortable than Haight, who has emerged as the catalyst for the high-powered Hawks this season and is a major reason Skyline is 10-1 this season.
"Last year was my first year on varsity, and we were running a new offense. Now we've got a good grasp on offense," Haight said. "I didn't think I would have this much success in the offense, and I credit it all to my linemen and my fullbacks for opening holes."
Haight led the Hawks' rushing attack during the regular season, running for 938 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also caught 10 passes for 165 yards a two more scores.
In the first round of the Region II, Division 3 playoffs last week against Loudoun Valley, Haight ran 11 times for 95 yards and two scores and also caught a 3-yard touchdown pass.
Haight's performance in last Friday's 43-6 win over the Vikings put him over the 1,000-yard mark for the season, but perhaps the most eye-popping stat of all is the number 96 -- the number of carries that Haight has had this season.
The senior running back is averaging nearly 11 yards per carry this season, second on the team only to Kylmen Breeden, who was averaging 12.5 yards per rush before he was sidelined with an MCL tear in the first quarter of the game against Sherando on Oct. 26.
A per-carry average as high as Haight's could almost certainly warrant more touches than what the senior has gotten this season, but Haight understands that the success of Skyline's offense relies on the Hawks' ability to be multi-dimensional.
"Dayvon with 11 yards per carry [could say] 'Coach, why in the world don't I even have 100 carries on the season, what are you doing? That's less than 10 [carries] a game after 11 games.' That would be perfectly fine, the kid has a point," Gilbert said. "But the thing is, he understands that we have multiple weapons, and the more everyone contributes, the harder it is to say 'hey, we're going to stop Dayvon Haight.'"
Stopping Haight has been a tough task for Skyline opponents this season, and the senior has put up some huge numbers in games this season. He topped 100-yards in back-to-back district wins over James Wood and Millbrook before erupting for 254 yards on just six carries in a 63-21 blowout of Washington (W. Va.) on Oct. 12.
It was the game against Washington that helped Haight realize that he was "the real deal." Haight set a school record with a 94-yard touchdown run in that game -- he repeated that feat two weeks later in a 28-21 win over Sherando.
Haight said the win over Sherando, which gave Skyline its first outright Northwestern District title in school history, was his most memorable performance of the season. He rushed for 166 yards and two scores in that game.
The senior said it was important for him to play well in such an important game.
"Big players play big in big games, and I want to be a big player," Haight said. "It was probably one of the best games I've ever played and it was a great game. It came down to the last play and it was our first [outright] district championship, so it was a great feeling."
Haight hasn't just been making plays on the offensive side of the football. He has also played a prominent role on defense and special teams.
Haight made his presence felt early on specials teams when he took the season-opening kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown against Musselman on Aug. 24.
On defense, Haight has become comfortable in his first season as a full-time starter at defensive back. He has four interceptions this year, including two last week against Loudoun Valley. He returned the second interception 65 yards for a touchdown.
Gilbert said it wasn't the plan for Haight to start in the defensive secondary, but Gilbert realized that using Haight as a role-player on defensive wasn't an option due to lack of experience in the secondary.
The challenge was something that Haight accepted with open arms, and the senior hit the weight room hard in the off-season to prepare for his new role as a two-way player.
It was Haight's off-season work ethic before this season that told Gilbert that Haight was a special player.
"We do two lifting groups over the summer, a 6 o'clock group and a 5:30 group, and he was here at 6 o'clock in the morning at all those sessions. He put the time in," Gilbert said. "When the summertime hit, that really tells me something about a kid. If you're willing to get up in the morning and be here in the summertime, then I know you have some commitment to you and that you're serious about football. He was that guy for us."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org