Statesboro has run wild through the opening half of its schedule and among all of the weapons at its disposal in the backfield, it’s a sophomore that is leading the way.
Dequan Daniels didn’t see any action with the varsity squad last season, but has stepped up to lead the Blue Devils (5-1, 2-0 Region 2-AAAA) with 484 rushing yards and six touchdowns on the year so far.
“Dequan has been a very pleasant surprise for us this season,” said SHS running backs coach Greg Hill. “He has done a very good job in helping the running game. We know that he can produce on Fridays, and with some more improvement, he has a chance to be pretty special.”
Last Friday saw Daniels’ most impressive performance to date.
Facing Effingham County for an early edge in the sub-region race, Daniels exploded for 201 yards and three touchdowns to guide Statesboro to a 28-14 win. All three of Daniels’ scoring runs came from over 20 yards out and repeatedly demoralized the Rebel defense, which never found an answer.
“I wasn’t thinking too much about numbers or scoring,” said Daniels. “I was just focusing on doing my best each play. Coach (Steve Pennington) always tells us to be ants. Just get in line and do your job. That’s what I tried to do, and the offensive line kept making holes and giving me chances to make plays.”
Known for its punishing rushing game, the Statesboro offense has also been given a boost by the blazing speed of Daniels.
A sprinter that can break the 11-second mark in the 100-meter dash, Daniels is able to make the most out of every hole he is given.
“Dequan’s speed is a great benefit,” said Hill. “It allows us to go to the outside a little more. We have a good inside rushing game, but the threat of that speed forces defenses to stay spread out.”
At the season’s beginning, the focus of the Blue Devil running game wasn’t on Daniels, but an injury to starting quarterback Reid Pennington forced Michael Summers – the Devils’ top ball carrier through the first two games – under center, and Daniels’ workload increased.
Daniels has responded and the Devil offense has remained efficient, allowing just two giveaways in its five wins, and potent — the Devils have scored 19 points or more in all but one game while waiting for Pennington and some members of the offensive line to return from injury.
“Honestly, I didn’t know that I’d be getting this many carries,” said Daniels. “There are a lot of other older guys who can really run well. I just try to make the most of every time I get the ball.”
Those older running backs are also the source of Daniels’ quick maturity. Summers, a junior, and senior Aaron Lester have taken Daniels and fellow sophomore Trai Gadson under their wings to form a potent attack.
“Aaron always keeps everyone’s energy level up and everyone respects him,” said Daniels. “Michael has a lot of experience too, and he always stays on me about having the right attitude about things. We all have our own strengths as running backs and we just use them as best we can to get a win every week.”
Daniels and company have another big game Friday as they hit the road to take on South Effingham. The Blue Devil running game was key in last season’s 28-0 victory over the Mustangs, and another win this week will put Statesboro in control of its own destiny as the postseason starts to come into view.
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.