Lightning cluster – Charger backs explode from double wing set

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 14, 2004

When Cornerstone’s Jamal Prentice was recognized as the Reporter Athlete of the Week for his performance against Sumter Academy two weeks ago, there was something he just had to get off his chest.

Prentice was given the honor after scoring touchdowns on an 80-yard kickoff return, 46-yard interception return and an 18-yard run. He also kicked six extra points in the Chargers’ win.

But Prentice wanted his teammates to know the award was theirs just as much as his, so one day at practice he called them together to tell them so.

&uot;When one of them scores it’s not ‘my touchdown’, it’s ‘our touchdown’,&uot; said Cornerstone coach Tim Smith. &uot;The closeness these guys have is unique.&uot;

Especially, Smith said, in the offensive backfield, perhaps the most dangerous element of a Cornerstone team that has outscored its opponents 81 to 15 through three games.

While they may be tight, the backs in Cornerstone’s double wing offense are becoming better known for their ability to spring loose.

With 4.3-second speed in the 40-yard dash, Prentice is particularly prone to burst out of the backfield and past opposing defenders.

He has broken three touchdown runs in the Chargers’ first three games, including a 51-yard strike against Kingwood Christian last Friday.

When Prentice breaks free, it’s usually because fullback Heath Smith has paved the way with a key block.

Smith, a senior, is a vocal leader both on the team and in the backfield, where he takes pride in laying big blocks and grinding it out on runs up the middle.

&uot;I’d rather go up the middle than around the outside,&uot; Smith said. &uot;I enjoy blocking as much as running.&uot;

Somewhat undersized for a fullback, Smith isn’t afraid to take linebackers head on.

He also didn’t shy away from the challenge of replacing Jeremy Walden, the featured back of last year’s squad who has since joined the football team at Auburn University as a walk-on.

&uot;He doesn’t weigh 240 pounds like Jeremy did, he weighs 160 soaking wet,&uot; coach Smith said. &uot;But Heath is a quick fullback and he’s pretty tough.&uot;

Prentice is not the only one to benefit from Heath Smith’s blocks.

&uot;It takes the pressure off of everybody else,&uot; said all-purpose player Ty Youngblood.

A versatile athlete, Youngblood is the Chargers’ leading receiver as well as a dangerous runner. The junior also lines up occasionally at quarterback, and along with Prentice, he can give Cornerstone a fresh look from under center.

&uot;Ty is our all-around guy,&uot; coach Smith said. &uot;He is a smart kid and he has a knack for making plays.&uot;

The youngster of the group is starting quarterback Jon Ray, a 6-foot-3, 230-pound sophomore who decided to play football this season after not playing the sport for several years.

Ray has adjusted to his role under center with the help of the three older backs.

&uot;These three guys right here keep me calm,&uot; Ray said of Youngblood, Prentice and Smith. &uot;If I get upset they bring me back down to their level. They tell me to concentrate and it helps me calm down.&uot;

Coach Smith said sophomore center Daniel Bulger has also played a key role in the backfield’s productivity this season. Bulger has yet to make a poor exchange with any of the three quarterbacks that have taken snaps this year.

The double wing offense has paid big dividends for the Chargers so far this season, but Smith said the players weren’t that receptive to the formation when he first began using it a few years ago.

&uot;The first year they didn’t like it,&uot; Coach Smith said. &uot;They didn’t really want to run it.&uot;

However, Cornerstone’s recent success out of the set has Prentice and company whistling a different tune.

&uot;I like (the double wing). It opens up a lot of holes,&uot; Prentice said. &uot;It’s kind of like the power-I except you use a lot of misdirection. And the offensive line has helped us out a lot.