By Patrick Dillon @PDillon_SGN
STRATHMORE – The running back position may be undervalued at the National Football League (NFL) level. Even some big time college programs have entertained the idea of scrapping a running back and airing the ball out fifty or more times a game.
That, however, is not the case when it comes to the high school gridiron. While the wishbone formation is practically extinct, a solid running back is still crucial to many high school programs’ success.
No matter the formation, whether it is the pro or spread, high schools in the foothills area still run the ball. Yet, one program seems to continually turn out one thousand-yard rusher after another: the Strathmore Spartans.
Spartan head coach Jeromy Blackwell has been at the helm for the last 15 seasons and has seen his fair share of teams come and go, including 10 thousand-yard rushers over the last 11 seasons according to maxpreps.com. Combined, all 10 have accounted for 17,058 rushing yards.
“We have been blessed with some really good kids that love to play football,” said Coach Blackwell. “It is an institution out here, and because of our school size, we’ve gotten real good at finding that one athlete and using his speed to our advantage.”
With only a total enrollment of 778 students between Strathmore High School and Harmony Magnet Academy, Blackwell and his staff have a limited number to choose from.
The one that got the trend of star running backs started was Keith Delk in 2006. Delk rushed for 1,852 yards during his senior season. A three-year starter, Delk is said to have amazing balance and the ability to stick his hand in the ground in order to avoid going down. The six-foot running back was slower in speed with a 4.6-second 40-yard dash, but at 180 pounds, he could break any arm tackle.
However, one of the best of the bunch came through the program in 2008-2009. His name was Jesse Soria. Soria rushed for 2,337 yards his senior season, which gave him a career total of 3,643 yards. Both are school records before this season. At just 5-foot-4 and 137 pounds, Soria had the speed to hit the edge and run away from players. In fact, the Spartans rode that speed all the way to a Valley Championship in 2009. Soria is already a part of the Spartan football hall of fame.
One of the best to ever strap on the pads for the Spartans could be going through the program right now. Joseph Garcia, nicknamed the Spartan Machine by many of his coaches and teammates, rushed for 2,345 yards last season. After slimming down and working on his open field speed during the offseason, Garcia already has 707 yards in just four games.
But why is it that Strathmore is able to turn out so many of these top running backs?
Coach Blackwell accredits two different aspects of his offense, the play of his line and the simplicity of their offense.
First, every coach knows that his offense, no matter the ability of the skill players, has to have a good offensive line. Even though the running backs that scored the touchdowns have been impressive, the Spartans have had some impressive offensive lineman as well. A vast majority of Strathmore’s offensive line has been 5-foot-10 or taller and weighted over 200 pounds, but it is their skill to open up the hole that has paid dividends for their running backs.
“Our offensive linemen have become masters of angles,” said Blackwell. “If they are able to give our running backs a little crease, and our running back can anticipate where the hole is going to break, they are gone.”
Second is the simplicity of the Spartans’ offense. Blackwell noted that over the years he has not deviated too far from the pro style offense. Blackwell has even gone as far as limiting the play and calling to just four running plays.
“You can dream up all the crazy stuff, and it can all look good on paper, but if your kids can’t execute it with assigned perfection, then you are not going to get very much,” he said.
That assignment perfection that Blackwell and his staff preach and teach could be the main reason why the Spartans can produce running backs like they have.