When the football gets into the hands of South Lakes High playmakers such as Ja’Juan Jones or Darius Smith, good things usually happen for the Seahawks.
The junior running backs are true breakaway threats and part of the reason South Lakes, after winning just two games a year ago, is off to a red hot 4-1 start this season.
Other skill position players such as senior Bobby Lewis and underclassman Stepfon Sanford have also played instrumental roles in South Lakes’ big play potential. And of course the Seahawks have utilized the stellar play of their offensive line, led by senior right tackle Kevin Ball, to create running space for their talented group of running backs.
Senior quarterback Shawn Rana, meanwhile, has done an excellent job running the offense in just his first season as the varsity starter.
“We’re just fortunate we have all these skill kids,” said South Lakes coach John Ellenberger, whose team defeated McLean, 28-21, in a Liberty District game last Friday night.
South Lakes’ big plays against the Highlanders included a 78-yard scoring pass from Rana to junior wide receiver Sean Price and a 78-yard scoring run by Jones, both of those touchdowns coming in the first half. Rana hit Price for a three-yard scoring toss later in the half as well as the Seahawks built a 21-7 halftime lead. South Lakes’ second half touchdown came from its defense when Seth Hauter returned an interception 33 yards for a score.
Jones, who a year ago rushed for 700-plus yards and earned Second Team All-District recognition despite missing four games with a shoulder injury, has been healthy and effective this season. He had a breakthrough game of 233 yards on 17 carries in the win over the Highlanders.
“He’s extremely coachable and just a [solid] football player,” said Ellenberger, of Jones. “His toughness stands out.”
A year ago, Jones, in the six games he played in, received a boatload of the team’s carries. Ellenberger said he has tried to spread the ball around more this season in order to keep Jones healthier and to utilize his other talented backs.
“I gave him the ball a little too much early last year,” said the coach. “He was taking it 25 to 30 times a game. I learned from that – that a sophomore should not be carrying it that many times. With a year in the weight room, I feel more comfortable giving him the ball.”
Smith, meanwhile, is a threat to find the end zone every time he touches the ball. Earlier this season in South Lakes’ 29-25 home loss to Herndon, Smith took the opening kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown. In South Lakes’ win over Marshall two weeks ago, Smith returned a kickoff 83 yards to the Statesmen’s’ 10.
“He’s just explosive and just a little faster than anyone else on the field,” said Ellenberger, of Smith.
Smith started half of South Lakes’ games his freshmen season in 2007.
“We recognized his talent early on,” said Ellenberger.
The coach recalled a practice during Smith’s freshmen season when the youngster, playing a defensive back position, went up for a thrown ball and somehow kicked and broke his thumb. Ellenberger chuckles at the recollection.
“He was like a big puppy out there, growing into his body,” recalled the coach.
Both Smith and Jones are two-way players for the Seahawks, with Smith playing in the defensive secondary and Jones playing at outside linebacker. Neither of the two comes off the field with any frequency.
Neither does the 6-4 Price, a wideout on offense and a cornerback on defense.
“He just goes up and gets the football,” said Ellenberger.
<b>A KEY ADDITION</b> to the team this season has been Lewis, a transfer student from Fairfax High School. The running back broke loose for a 25-yard scoring run in the fourth quarter of the loss to Herndon.
“If you give him open space he will go,” said the coach, of Lewis’ quick bursts upfield.
Sanford, just a sophomore, has impressed his coaches with his ball carrying ability as well.
“He’ll make a run, plant his foot in the ground and [go] like he’s a senior,” said Ellenberger.
The coach said his squad as a whole is an enjoyable group to coach.
“They are real good kids and great to be around,” he said. “It’s a real fun bunch. They are great kids of character and have a good work ethic.”
South Lakes will be at Madison this Saturday afternoon at 3.