Laguna running backs making it looks easy
In describing the relentless running attack of Laguna’s football team, every superlative falls as flat as the two defenses the Breakers have run over in a pair of season-opening victories. “I’ve been saying all summer, we’re going to be good,” said first year coach and athletic director Mike Churchill. But, he conceded, “Two games is a long way from the end of the season.”
The Breakers so far have piled up yards at a pace that makes 2009’s record-setting offense look like a JV squad. That team averaged 420 yards a game. This year Laguna is racking up nearly 600 a game, with most of the yardage covered by a talented group of runners that are making it look remarkably easy.
Fullback Drake Martinez, who was named OC Register varsity football player of the week for his performance against Ocean View, leads the group with 437 yards on 20 carries. His combination of speed and power has led to six touchdown runs of 35 yards or more. “We just have to play hard and leave it on the field,” said the unassuming yet confident junior.
The only thing Martinez has left on the field is a trail of frustrated defenders. Not many have been able to catch him, let alone tackle him. If Guyer Field were grass, his uniform would be stain free.
“He’s just a tremendous athlete,” said Churchill. “He’s going to be a recruited kid.”
Division I scouts already found his brother Taylor, who became the starting quarterback for the Nebraska Cornhuskers last season as a freshman. Before Drake went out and scored a school record 32 points on 319 yards against Ocean View last Friday, Taylor offered him some advice. “Before the game he just told me I’m the fastest player on the field and told me just to run away from everybody,” said Drake.
While new to his players, opponents and many Breaker fans, Churchill’s offensive scheme “is old as dirt,” he said.
Similar to what Notre Dame’s Ara Parseghian used to capture two national championships in ‘66 and ‘73, Churchill’s offense uses motion and mis-direction to keep defenses guessing as to who will get the ball. “[His plays are] pretty straight forward,” said running back Norton Penney. “It’s just deception in the backfield. Just running backs moving all different directions.”
When it comes to deception, Robert Clemons is king. He doesn’t quite have Martinez’s speed, but he doesn’t need it. His ability to cut back against the grain freezes would-be tacklers, who don’t thaw until after he’s around them and gone.
Clemons and his fellow running mates credit Churchill and his staff with the team’s early success. “It is a new era I think, and Church coming in kind of motivated a lot of us,” he said.
“I really feel like our coaching has helped us a lot,” echoed Martinez.
But good coaching and talented backs don’t necessarily add up to a successful run offense. “These linemen have been making some nice holes for us,” said Clemons, who will miss tonight’s game with a fractured thumb he suffered last week against Ocean View.
Although Penney has the speed to run around defenses when there’s an opening, he would rather run right up behind the Breakers ever-improving line. His dogged determination and piston-like leg drive often turn short gains into spirited romps with half the defense riding his back. “It’s my dad before every game saying ‘finish every single run,” said the hard-nosed senior of what drives him to get the most from each carry.
With so much talent ahead of him, Nathan Lancaster didn’t expect much playing time this season. But when Laguna opened up a huge lead in the first quarter of its season opener, Churchill sent his starters to the sidelines and turned his second string loose on a hapless Webb defense.
The sophomore running back picked up where his more experienced teammates left off, carrying the ball 15 times for a team high 171 yards, including an 80 TD run that surprised many, but not his coach, “Before he’s out of here, he’s going to be a good back,” said Churchill.
When the final whistle sounded, the Breakers had amassed 579 yards of offense, all on the ground, shattering a record that had stood for 55 years.
Combined, the Breakers’ first and second-string quartet has 959 yards on 57 carries with 13 rushing TD. Clemons has another score on an 88-yard kick off return, and Martinez turned an interception into a TD against Ocean View.
Churchill knows his team can’t put up those kinds of numbers every week. Earlier, while preparing for tonight’s home game against Bishop Montgomery, he told his players, “We’re not going score 70 points every week. There’s going to be a game that’s 14 to 7 down the line, and we’ve got to have the 14.”