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Carrying a lighter load

Courtesy photo
Wayne all-state running back Brandon Spurlock has carried the ball just 22 times in three games.

Odd as it sounds, the better Class AA power Wayne plays, perhaps the worse the chances of personal honors for running back Brandon Spurlock.

Spurlock, a returning first-team all-stater, certainly has the talent to contend for honors like the Kennedy Award, which is voted to the top player in West Virginia.

In last year's championship game at Wheeling Island Stadium, Spurlock ran 26 times for 197 yards and three touchdowns, leading the Pioneers to a 34-7 revenge victory against Point Pleasant.

He finished the season with 1,698 yards on the ground, 33 overall TDs and a school-record 222 points, breaking the mark of 1968 Kennedy Award winner David Morris.

However, Wayne is off to such a blistering start this season that it hasn't needed to feed Spurlock the ball. In fact, he's only carried 22 times total as the Pioneers have rocketed off to a 3-0 record - or four fewer times than he did in the 2011 title game.

Quite simply, the Pioneers are too good for his own good. Spurlock has played in just one series in the second half this season, getting only one carry.

It obviously hasn't hurt Wayne, which cranks out 62.7 points and 414 rushing yards per game and averages a startling 10.0 yards per play. But in some ways, it short-changes Spurlock's credentials.

"In all honesty, you feel bad,'' said Pioneers coach Tom Harmon, "but you also kind of feel like there are more important things than a kid's individual stats. That's what we've hung our hat on, program-wise. We understand it's a team game.

"Sometimes when a kid doesn't maybe get the accolades he deserves, it makes you feel bad. But honestly, he's the last person you'd hear complaining about that. He has the right attitude about things. He understands.''

Other top running backs around the state, such as Ryan Switzer of George Washington - last year's Kennedy winner - and Bridgeport's Brett Hathaway, certainly don't lack for carries. Hathaway, despite an injury, averages 18 per game and Switzer's gotten 40 in the two games he's been fully healthy.

Right now, that looks like a month's work for the 5-foot-7, 185-pound Spurlock.

"It's funny,'' Spurlock said Wednesday. "I was looking at that today, all the carries for Switzer and Elijah Wellman [of Spring Valley] and all the yards for the top backs.

"It didn't make me upset or anything. We're winning, and that's really the main goal for everyone. But I know there will be a game soon and I'll run the ball a lot and Mason [Hodge] and James [Egnor] will run the ball a lot, and we'll do what we've got to do to win.''

It's not like Spurlock hasn't done anything this season. He leads the Pioneers in rushing with 375 yards and three TDs, has tacked on a defensive score and three PAT runs for 30 points.

But all those contributions tend to get lost when your team obliterates someone -like Wayne seems to do every week. The Pioneers have crushed Chesapeake (Ohio) - a team it lost to last year - 58-12, Herbert Hoover 46-7 and Ravenswood 84-42.

Last week's game was the most shocking result so far. Against a respected Ravenswood program that was tied for fourth in the AA playoff ratings, and was sky-high playing its home opener under a new coach (Mick Price), Wayne ripped off 45 points in the first quarter alone and had 64 at halftime before settling for 84.

Spurlock got five first-half carries, but made them count, gaining 112 yards, including a 60-yard scoring burst.

"I don't know what happened,'' Spurlock said of the showdown-turned-beatdown. "Ravenswood looked great on film and had a lot of good athletes. I know a lot of them were sophomores, and that was really a disadvantage to them.''

But that kind of result is becoming the norm rather than the exception for the Pioneers, and it limits the playing time not only for Spurlock, but the team's other starters. Which makes one wonder if Wayne will be ready when its front line has to play four quarters rather than two.

"We've only played three games,'' Harmon said. "Everybody has some battles on its schedule that will take place - we probably have one this week [at Sissonville]. If [Spurlock] can play good football early and we win, great. I'm sure we'll have a lot of opponents - especially the one this week - who will do something to make us play the whole game to win it, if we can at all.''

If Wayne does meet with more resistance down the line - and it figures to, with five of its final seven opponents ranked in the top 19 (and none of the seven with losing records) - then the parameters should change. The starters will go the distance, meaning Spurlock's No. 1 will be called upon more often, and his stats will start to fatten.

Will it make him a serious Kennedy Award candidate?

"I'm not sure,'' Spurlock said. "It would really be nice, but that's not for me to say. If I ain't, I'm not worried about it. I really want to win some games - that's the main thing. It's my senior year, and we want to go all the way.

"As long as we're winning, that's fine with me. If it's going to be like that [games with few carries], I'll have to be more effective and more focused when I do get the ball. I'm working on that right now. I've been working harder.''

Harmon hopes those voting on postseason awards like the Kennedy and all-state teams figure in Spurlock's entire resume, and not just his (currently infrequent) rushing attempts.

"If you watch us play, if you watch him play,'' Harmon said, "his contributions come in a whole lot more ways than just carrying the ball. As a fullback, he's a really good blocker for us, and plays good defense as well [at cornerback].

"Most people, I would think, who vote on those accolades when it's accolade time at the end of the year, will take those things into consideration.''

Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or rickryan@wvgazette.com.


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