Forsyth high school football teams get things going on the ground. Here’s a look at how they do it:
Central coach Shane Williamson’s short-lived spread experiment last year and subsequent return to the wishbone offense has paid off in spades this season as Shaun Diebel (596 yards) and Sabrian Howard (377 yards) have combined to rush for nearly 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns in four games.
Diebel came out of nowhere—he was not even mentioned in the Forsyth County News’ Pigskin Preview—to rush for 189 yards in the Bulldogs’ season-opening win over Dawson County. "We had an idea that Shaun was athletic, but he was unproven," Central coach Shane Williamson said. "He didn’t play last year and hadn’t played much football at all. He came out in January and we started to realize, ‘hey, we might have something here.’"
The wishbone requires two strong tailbacks so that defenses cannot load up to stop one. "It wouldn’t be the Diebel show without Howard," Williamson said. "We needed somebody besides Sabrian to step up. They’re not selfish and will block for each other." The two tailbacks are similar in style—put them in a footrace, and it would come down to the wire—and both could rush for 100 yards on any given night. Williamson said Howard had his best game of the season against Kell because of his strong blocking, and he still finished with 93 yards.
The Paladins’ set of fullback and slot backs (Mitchell Ojeda, Adam Guard and Matthew Walters, among others) could be the best in Forsyth County, but what sets the Pinecrest offense apart is quarterback Ryan McCarthy’s running ability. McCarthy, only a sophomore, rushed for 211 yards in a romp over Walker and scored three touchdowns in a six minute span of the third quarter. Pinecrest totaled 921 rushing yards in its first three games. McCarthy (352 yards, four touchdowns), Ojeda (213-2), Guard (91-1) and Walters (182-2) lead the Paladins’ attack.
"Our offense comes down to the quarterback making good decisions and linemen getting off the ball," Pinecrest coach Todd Winter said. "Ryan [McCarthy] has improved so much from last year in his mechanics of running the triple option and in his distribution of the football. Last year, he was playing at about a five; this year, he’s at an eight."
If McCarthy decides not to keep the ball, his first option is fullback Matt Walters; if Walters doesn’t have a crease, slot backs Guard and Ojeda are the final option. Success of the slot back depends on the wide receivers’ blocking on the perimeter. "We’ve gotten complements from other coaching staffs about how well guys like Logan Hamilton, Nick Palmer and Sean Flannigan block on the outside," Winter said.
If not for Shaun Diebel’s early production, Tyler LaFlamme would be the frontrunner for Forsyth County Offensive Player of the Year honors. The senior running back has 550 yards (7.9 yards per carry) and six touchdowns on the ground through the War Eagles’ first four games; 489 of those yards have come in South’s three region wins. Grant Umberger (159 yards, four touchdowns) and fullback Sam Outlaw (135 yards, three touchdowns) are the other big rushing threats for South. With quarterback Matt White, the War Eagles have been the most balanced offense in Forsyth County this season.
The biggest concern for South entering this season was a revamped offensive line. Guards Caleb Lummus and Griffin Landrum and tight end Cameron Kline returned, but newcomers Riley Street (center), Donte Arnold (right tackle) and Toki Adeosun (left tackle) have been revelations.
LaFlamme rushed for nearly 800 yards and 13 touchdowns last season as the backup to Isaiah Williams; this year, he’s the guy. "He’s a powerful runner with speed. What more could you want out of a tailback?" South coach Jeff Arnette said. Umberger has been no surprise, either. "He made big plays last year when he got the opportunities, and that’s what we like about him," Arnette said. "Grant’s a threat to go any time he touches it." Outlaw stepped up from the junior varsity in to a key role at fullback.
West might be higher on this list had they not already faced off against preseason Class AAAAAA top-10 Mill Creek and Region 6 frontrunner Alpharetta. Now that the Wolverines have quarterback Hampton McConnell healthy, coach Adam Clack has seen Austin Reid and Grant Torgerson emerge as viable ballcarriers in addition to versatile slot back Grant Anderskow. On the season, the Wolverines have 669 rushing yards on 4.2 yards per carry.
"I knew our skill positions could end up being a strength, but they’ve all still been finding their way," Clack said. Sophomore Grant Torgerson leads West with 189 yards (5.0 per carry). "Grant’s going to be one heck of a player," Clack said. "As a sophomore, he’s such a good athlete that offense and defense are fighting over who gets him. He’s made the most of it." McConnell has 147 yards and three rushing touchdowns; that total should rise considerably. "Hampton turned a page in the Chattahoochee game after fighting through some adversity in those first few games," Clack said. "He’s learning when to manage the game and when to take over. He knows he doesn’t have to take games over all the time…but he can when he wants to," Clack said.
Slot back Grant Anderskow (141 yards, two touchdowns; 80-yard touchdown reception) is biding his time. "Anderskow is ready to pop off," Clack said. Austin Reid—out for this Friday’s game and through at least the Wolverines’ bye week Oct. 3—is a dangerous kick returner and has 108 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
Lambert goes as Trevor O’Brien (329 yards, four touchdowns) goes. In the Longhorns’ lone win over Johns Creek, the senior running back piled up 153 rushing yards and a touchdown. In Lambert’s three losses, O’Brien had 176 rushing yards combined. Hunter Shepherd is the Longhorns’ next-leading rusher with 68 yards and a touchdown. The Horns lost four offensive line starters and dual-threat quarterback Tucker Maxwell. Lambert’s struggles to throw the ball mean opposing defenses have keyed in on O’Brien and the run.
Last Friday, Lambert coach Louis Daniel inserted senior Drew Cole at quarterback. Cole grew up playing the position but moved to slot back before last season; he gives the Horns a viable running option at the position. Cole moved the Lambert offense with some efficiency and was able to evade pressure with his feet against a swarming Alpharetta defensive line, and Daniel, for the most part, liked what he saw out of the 6-foot Cole.
Jesus Torres leads North with 134 yards on the season. Fifteen different players have carried the ball in coach Jason Galt’s double wing system, but the Raiders have just 512 rushing yards on the season on 172 attempts (3.0 yards per carry). Like South, the Raiders had to replace three offensive line starters; the War Eagles’ new starters have been more effective.
Perhaps the biggest issue for North has been an inability to break off the big play—the Raiders only have one run longer than 30 yards. North coach Jason Galt praised Torres’ breakaway speed before the season; among five players with more than 10 carries on the season, Torres is tops with 3.8 yards per carry. Zac Slaton (90 yards, touchdown), on the Forsyth County News’ preseason Offensive Player of the Year watch list, has found the going tough, often getting swallowed up before he reaches the line of scrimmage. Elsewhere, fullback Jamal Davenport has 70 yards on nine carries, sophomore Jeffrey Rice has 51 yards and a touchdown, and junior fullback Mason Haithcock has 61 yards on 11 carries.
After struggling mightily on offense last season—Horizon scored four touchdowns in 10 games—the Warriors have improved by leaps and bounds. Horizon moved the ball well, but turnovers, especially in the red zone, relegated the Warriors to a 1-3 start.
Senior running back Travis Pittman has 193 yards and three touchdowns on the ground after a 650-yard season last year. James Kimbrough (6-0, 170) has emerged as another threat for Charles Wiggins’ team; the senior running back has 189 yards and two touchdowns. Quarterback John Michael Booth, only a sophomore, chipped in 167 rushing yards and two scores through the Warriors’ first four games.