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Mowing down defenders:
Catching these running backs takes some quick thinking

Photo by: Jeff Forman/JForman@News-Herald.comGood running backs trust their speed.

They know when to use it and how to use it.

When they turn it on, their teams benefit. Whether it's a big running play, touchdown or first down, these backs provide the spark that makes their teams go.

A handful of area backs who have speed that separates them from the rest are Dominique Darling (South), Danny LaRosa (Ledgemont), Patrick Porter (Kenston) and Richie Sanders (Lake Catholic).

Not only do they have speed in common (they all run the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds or less), they have a strong desire to win and they'll do whatever it takes to accomplish that goal.

From Home Page Rushing for 1,000 yards in a season is not easy, but these backs make it look that way. They have the ability to change a game with one play. That's what separates this elite group from the rest.

Ready to return

Sanders, a 5-foot-8, 183-pound senior, has worked hard to develop his speed. Since his freshman year, he's run track, which has translated to even more quickness on the football field.

"You either have speed or you are chasing it," Lake Catholic coach Mike Bell said. "Richie has it and people have to chase him. He has the ability to help a team gain momentum."

In the first six games of last season, Sanders totaled 692 yards on 124 carries for an average of 5.6 yards per carry. He was on his way to a 1,000-yard season before he separated his shoulder and was sidelined for the rest of the year.

Bell sometimes wonders what his team would have accomplished with a healthy Sanders. The Cougars advanced to a Division II state semifinal before losing to Maple Heights, 21-17.

They were one game away from making the state final.

When he was injured, Sanders was the team's leading rusher and tackler.

"It was a tremendous loss," Bell said. "You wonder ‘what if' and would we have gotten further and done better, but you never know."

What Sanders is certain of is he's stronger than ever. With his injury behind him, he's focused on helping the Cougars return to the playoffs.

"Having to be on the sidelines and watch has created a hunger in him to really work hard in the offseason," Bell said. "His focus and drive have been a noticeable difference for the better this offseason."

Being one of the fastest athletes in the area makes Sanders a target. It also motivates him to prove he has the talent to compete on the next level.

"You have to trust your speed," Sanders said. "If you are trying to run on the sidelines, you have to run your fastest. When you see guys pull up or slow down to avoid the defender, you have to beat that guy without getting touched."

Steady improvement

LaRosa, a 5-101⁄2, 170-pound junior, has been steadily improving since his middle school years.

As an eighth grader, he rushed for more than 1,750 yards to break the school record. Last year, he totaled 1,469 yards on 163 carries for an average of nine yards per carry.

"Once high school came, I realized the game was more about speed," LaRosa said. "It's who is built stronger. Going into my sophomore year, I realized I had to get my legs stronger so I lifted a lot. Coming into this year, I have the same attitude and I'm more prepared for the season."

LaRosa plays various positions for Ledgemont, including linebacker, strong safety and special teams.

At a Division VI school, talented athletes like LaRosa are heavily relied on. His coach and father, Joe LaRosa, realizes this and does what he can to keep his son healthy.

"In Division VI, you don't see the kind of speed Danny has," Joe LaRosa said. "He works hard at it, and his hard work is paying off."

"I'm not a cocky person," Danny LaRosa said. "I just try to do the best I can for my team and when we need big plays, I try to make them.

"I rely on myself. If the team needs something to be done, I can get it done."

Complete athlete

In 32 years of coaching, Porter is one of the most complete athletes Kenston coach Roger Vasey has ever had in his football program.

Not only is the 6-foot, 200-pound running back a standout football player, he's also one of the area's best center fielders.

Kent State, Cleveland State and Eastern Kentucky are among the schools recruiting him for baseball.

"The thing that makes Pat special is he's a team player," Vasey said. "He is well liked by his peers. He's a very unselfish football player. He's very fast and has the outstanding ability to cutback. He's just an overall special athlete."

Last year, Porter totaled 1,142 yards on 213 carries for an average of 5.4 yards per carry. He not only plays running back for Kenston, he also plays strong safety and handles all of the team's kicking.

"Pat could be a track guy," Vasey said. "He has that natural lean you see outstanding backs have. He's not been caught from behind that I can recall. He's quick, and he's a 200-pound kid."

A poor 2-8 record his sophomore year motivated Porter going into his junior season.

As a result, he helped lead the team to a 6-4 record, which he hopes to improve on this year.

"Going from sophomore year to last year was unbelievable," Porter said. "In my first game sophomore year, I was really nervous. Now it's just a normal thing. Sometimes I get butterflies, but now it all comes natural to me."

Porter credits his offseason workouts for his speed. He also lifts weights to gain power.

Although baseball is his top sport, he enjoys football on Friday nights just as much.

"I like the bond you have with your teammates through your whole season," he said. "It's a completely different atmosphere than baseball. Football is once a week. The whole town comes and is behind you. It's a great feeling."

Hard work

Darling, a 5-101⁄2, 190-pound senior, was highly motivated to improve his speed in his freshman year.

He was often being compared to his older brother, Henry Bailey, who gained 825 yards for South in 2006. Many thought he wasn't fast enough to play varsity football.

And Darling wanted to prove them wrong.

So he joined track and worked with track coach Matt Luck to improve his speed.

Now Darling is a standout senior back who is expected to lead the Rebels in rushing just like his brother did four years ago.

"What Dom has done is a testament to him, to his attitude and to his family," Luck said. "His brother Henry ran for me. I think Henry's guidance was very important to Dom. He told his brother to stick with it and be committed. Dom has done just that."

Not only did Darling become faster, but his attitude changed. He became more positive and more aware of how hard work can pay.

"I remember at a meet last year when Dom looked at me and said, ‘How did you ever get me to like track so much?' " Luck said. "That's when I knew he was getting it."

A year ago, Darling was a backup running back to Gary Harmon, who totaled 818 yards. Darling started on defense at linebacker and totaled 664 yards on 100 carries (6.6 average) offensively.

"I had to become a more well-rounded player last year," Darling said. "I played a lot of defense last year because we were short on the defensive side, so I had to become a smarter football player."

This year, Darling is excited to take over as South's featured back. He'll also continue to play linebacker.

"Once kids begin to see what's possible, they begin to believe so much more in themselves," Luck said. "You could see it in Dom's attitude. It was an attitude of belief. It's all because of the hard work he did."

Racing to the finish

Darling, LaRosa, Porter and Sanders all have the potential to rush for more than 1,000 yards this year. But none of them mentioned that.

Their goals had more to do with the team and helping out in any way they could.

"You have to fight to get that extra inch," LaRosa said. "You have to do everything you can for the team."

Especially when you are a speedy back who is always looking forward and seldom being caught from behind.

"Coach always tell us as soon as we get the ball, we have to get to the next level," Sanders said. "That is my goal every time."