Central Football Notebook: Watson, Mullins expected to share load in backfield for Falcons

Falcon players stand along the sidelines during the first day practice. Rich Cooley/Daily

WOODSTOCK – Central High School’s football team lost last year’s workhorse running back, Carston Shockey, to graduation. As it stood following Monday’s practice, the Falcons coaching staff plans to replace that lost production with not one, but two backs in 2017.

Central head coach Mike Yew said Monday that neither Shane Watson nor Hunter Mullins, both juniors, has emerged as the clear-cut favorite in the backfield as the Falcons prepare to host Skyline in the opener Friday night. Yew’s not too concerned about naming a featured back, either.

“It’s not a bad thing because … in our Broadway scrimmage (last Thursday), we saw good things out of both running backs,” Yew said. “At this point Shane goes out there with the first group but to say ‘starter,’ I don’t know. I don’t know how much it really means. But I look for both of them to get probably eight to 14 carries a game. Maybe if a guy’s a little hotter he might get a few more carries as the game goes on, but for the most part they both have done nothing to make me believe they can’t both handle the job.”

A running back-by-committee approach would be slightly new territory for a Central offense that has thrived behind a featured running back in recent seasons. Shockey, who piled up 1,357 yards and 21 touchdowns on the ground in 2016, averaged over 18 carries per game last season. Two years ago, Hank Hoover averaged 27 carries per contest.

In terms of varsity experience at running back, Watson has the upper hand on Mullins after carrying 66 times for 403 yards and a touchdown in a backup role last season. Watson is also listed 33 pounds heavier at 205 pounds (both are 5-foot-7), but Yew said the two running backs don’t bring contrasting styles to the backfield.

Central's offense, led by quarterback Zeb Dyer, likely will use two running backs in Shane Watson and Hunter Mullins this season. Rich Cooley/Daily

“It’s not a thunder and lightning,” Yew said. “We don’t have one guy with blazing speed. They both have decent speed. Hunter’s probably a step or two faster than Shane but neither one of them are really speed burners.”

Yew added that Central’s offense, which returns starting quarterback Zeb Dyer and a pair of fleet-footed receivers in Kyle Clanton and Varsey Bright, will “utilize everything we have” this fall.

“I think the years of us having that one guy who dominates the game and you look at the stat book and he goes 27 carries for 170 yards, I don’t think you’re gonna see that anymore,” Yew said. “I think you’ll see eight carries, 12 carries, six catches, four catches, maybe a couple receivers got a couple counters, a couple reverses. I think you’ll see us mix it up and really spread the ball around because we do feel like we have five or six guys that can really make plays for us.”

POSITIVE VIBES: Yew said the Falcons saw good things from their first scrimmage against Page County earlier this month, but the head coach added that last Thursday’s exhibition game against Broadway gave the coaching staff a “much better feel” for where the team is at entering Week 1.

In contrast to the first scrimmage, Yew said Central approached the Broadway contest in a manner similar to a game week during the regular season and did more game planning for what the Gobblers run offensively and defensively.

“I was very pleased how we played,” Yew said of the scrimmage, which ended after one half due to lightning. “I thought we played a great team game. I thought from every aspect we did good things. It wasn’t great and it wasn’t perfect but we did good things in almost every aspect of the game. I was really pleased with how physical we were up front and really pleased with how hard we ran the ball. I was pleased with how we played all the way around.”

Central’s offense struck for a pair of touchdowns in the first half, according to Yew, and kept Broadway out of the end zone during that span. Defensively, Yew said the Falcons snagged a couple of interceptions, tipped a few more passes and batted down a couple more balls in the secondary.

Yew added that the offensive line “made their mark” during the game.