Herman Gray spent his first two seasons in Arbor View’s football program sharing carries in the team’s loaded backfield.
But as a senior, Gray has given the team something it didn’t have the previous two seasons: a featured running back.
Gray has rushed for 1,325 yards and 16 touchdowns as the Aggies (8-0, 3-0 Northwest League) head into a showdown at Centennial (8-0, 3-0) at 7 p.m. today with the Northwest championship on the line.
“Herman’s a workhorse, and he’s definitely our leader when it comes to running the ball,” coach Dan Barnson said. “We’re not going to hide that. We’re not going to try to hide that”
Arbor View spread its carries among several backs over the previous two seasons. Anthony Smith, who has since graduated, led the team in rushing in each of the last two seasons, but never had more than 104 carries. He got 22.3 percent of the team’s rushing attempts last season, and 18 percent in 2012.
Gray has 142 carries this season, 46.9 percent of the Aggies’ rushing attempts.
“It’s been fun watching Herman run,” Barnson said. “And he’s deserved it, because he’s worked hard to get to that point. He deserved that amount of carries.”
Gray said this season has certainly been more physically demanding for him.
“It takes a toll on you, I’m not going to lie,” Gray said. “I’m getting the job done, and we’ve got other backs to get the job done, too, so they don’t key on me as much.”
Maurice Havey is second on the team with 40 carries, and Charles Louch has shown big-play ability, averaging 12.2 yards per carry with six touchdowns. He had scoring runs of 50 and 69 yards last week in a 46-23 win over Cimarron-Memorial.
“I’ll say this, you can’t just key on one guy, though,” Barnson said. “We still have other guys that are running. Charles showed that last week when (he) went off to the races a couple times.”
All of the backs benefit from running behind a strong offensive line, anchored by 6-foot-3-inch, 305-pound senior Malik Noshi, who has committed to Northern Arizona.
Center Blake Coggins (6-6, 240) and junior Keenan King (6-5, 280) also help pave the way for Gray.
“He’s got some big dudes in front of him helping out,” Barnson said. “And when you’ve got the big dudes in front, I don’t want to say it makes it easy, but it helps.”
Noshi said blocking for Gray has been a pleasure.
“It’s great. I love Herman,” Noshi said. “Herman finds the holes; he knows where to run. Quiet kid, humble, always just running, never complaining.”
While Centennial must find a way to stop Gray, Arbor View is focusing on slowing Centennial quarterback Juan Rodriguez, who has passed for 1,117 yards and 13 touchdowns and rushed for 432 yards and five scores. Barnson said containing the scrambling quarterback will be a key for his defense.
“We haven’t faced a quarterback that can go out and do what he does,” Barnson said.
“A kid like that can make a team really, really good. Even when there’s a breakdown he makes things happen.”
There’s generally an intense atmosphere when the rival schools face off, and with so much on the line, this game should be no exception.
“It’s a big rival every year,” Noshi said. “There’s a lot of tension in this game every year no matter if we’re 8-0 or 7-1 or 6-2. There’s always going to be tension in this game no matter what it is, and both teams are going to come out and play hard.”
And that should create a special high school football atmosphere.
“It should be a barnburner of a game,” Barnson said. “It’s going to be a great environment. Centennial’s kind of like us where they get a lot of people. So we’re excited for the environment and for our kids to experience that.”
Contact reporter Damon Seiters at email@example.com or 702-380-4587. Follow him on Twitter: @DamonSeiters.