Baltimore’s unique talents a perfect fit for Hawks

By Brad Fauber

FRONT ROYAL — Jerrius Baltimore is a unique kind of football player for Skyline High School.

He didn’t truly begin seeing a featured role on the field with the Hawks until his junior year last fall, but Baltimore may actually be one of the most experienced players to come through Skyline’s football program.

Back in 2010, Hawks head coach Heath Gilbert knew Baltimore was going to serve as the quarterback for Skyline’s junior varsity team, so Baltimore participated in varsity two-a-day practices beginning in his eighth-grade year. As Baltimore enters his senior season this fall, he has now had the benefit of five years of varsity practice experience.

“He’s a coach on the field,” Gilbert said after practice earlier this month. “He’s amazing. … He’s smart as a whip, so football savvy.”

Baltimore’s football IQ has served Skyline’s football program well, as it’s allowed him to effectively handle multiple roles on the field. He now serves as the Hawks’ primary running back, but he has also taken snaps at quarterback for the varsity squad and plays in the defensive secondary from time to time.

That versatility came in handy last season when Skyline quarterback Corban Ruch suffered a bruised sternum early in the season opener against cross-town rival Warren County. Baltimore stepped in to take the snaps and led the Hawks to a thrilling 14-13 comeback win in which Skyline scored two touchdowns over the final 11 minutes. Baltimore — who is primarily used in a “Wild Hawk” role when taking the snaps at quarterback — rushed for 164 yards on 20 carries and scored the game-winning touchdown with less than seven minutes to play.

Baltimore said he doesn’t figure to see too much time at quarterback this season now that junior Dylan Hamman has emerged as a capable backup to Ruch, which will allow Baltimore to focus exclusively on his responsibilities as Skyline’s featured running back.

“It actually takes a lot of pressure off because when I’m at running back and then all the sudden I go straight to quarterback, I’ve actually got to read more. That’s just a lot,” said Baltimore, who ran for 1,014 yards and six touchdowns on 172 carries last season.

Those fewer responsibilities in Skyline’s offense — plus the added running back depth provided by sophomore Nathan Clatterbuck and senior Hunter Partlowe — also will allow Baltimore to stay fresh and possibly see more extensive playing time on defense this season.

Baltimore saw time as a defensive back sporadically in his first three varsity seasons, and Gilbert said Baltimore will be included in the Hawks’ nickel package this fall.

Still, Baltimore’s big impact for Skyline this season will be in the running game.

At 5-foot-9, 195 pounds, Baltimore admittedly lacks top-end speed, but he makes up for it with what Gilbert calls “unreal lateral movement.”

Baltimore also has focused on taking a quicker first step out of the backfield in preseason practice.

“I’m actually working on my burst from the backfield because usually I took a false step and that was slowing me down,” Baltimore said. “I didn’t get through the hole as fast. Now I’m actually working on getting forward, getting lean so I can get through the hole a lot faster.”

Skyline’s rushing attack could be even more dangerous this season now that Baltimore and Ruch have had a year to get comfortable at their mesh point — a critical component of Skyline’s misdirection-laced multiple-I offense.

“We’re working every day because some things have been off, but we’re trying to correct it in practice,” Baltimore said. “After practice sometimes we work on handoffs, trying to get that right for the read and stuff so that he can actually read it instead of me trying to take it every time.”

Baltimore, a three-sport athlete at Skyline, said his college options are still wide open at this point, although he said he hopes to continue to play football after his high school career ends.

“He’s going to be a great high school back and hopefully has a great year and somebody gives him a shot,” Gilbert said. “They’re going to be happy with him if they do.”