For 10-0 Tarboro, carries come at a premium


Tarboro's Keon Caudle is shown running the ball during a September game against Northern Nash.


Sports Writer

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

TARBORO — Keon Caudle understands his town’s recent football history. That’s why he understands his present football situation.

“Tabroro is a running back school,” Caudle said during practice on Wednesday. “They put out Todd (Gurley), (veteran NFL running back) Shaun Draughn, all those guys. The competition is — we’re just very competitive. We have to work hard, keep each other up, push each other, that’s how we look at it.”

The ‘it’ Caudle is talking about is the type of problem any high school in North Carolina would like to have. It’s the problem that keeps him sidelined during the second half and keeps his carries at an average of 5.6 per game. The Vikings have so many good, deserving running backs, and so often lead by so much entering halftime, that opportunities, as has been the case in past seasons, have sometimes been few and far between.

Caudle is one of four seniors, along with Jaquez Edge (4 carries per game), Jyron Albritton (5.6) and Clifton Joyner (4.1), to split reps in a crowded backfield.

“I tell those guys that all the time, ‘I know it’s frustrating,’” offensive coordinator Ricky Babb said. “I just say, ‘Guys, stay unselfish. There’s going to be some games where you can’t get caught up in the stats. You guys could go to any school around here and you could be the one getting the ball 15-to-20 times a game.’”

Alas, all four of those senior runners play for Tarboro, the team that’s won 25 straight and will look for No. 26 against SouthWest Edgecombe this Friday, and not any other envious 1-A school. And so, too, does senior Ty’trez Higgs (2.5 carries per game) and junior quarterback Kimani McDaniels (2.6).

In all, 19 players have carried at least one handoff for the Vikings this year in 10 games played, including 13 in last week’s 66-6 win over Jones Senior. For scale, only nine Gryphons at Rocky Mount High have been trusted with at least one handoff.

The competition over carries has led some, like Caudle, to get a little more creative, urging McDaniels on option plays to favor his side.

“Keon, he told me on one of our plays, an option play, to look his way,” McDaniels said, laughing. “He used to tell me to look to his side.”

According to head coach Jeff Craddock, the gameplan is usually to give each of the four running backs a possession to run the ball in the first half. If the game is a blowout entering the third quarter — and all of them have been; the Vikings have won every game by at least 43 points — the coaches send out the first-team offense for one drive, then give the younger players a chance.

“A lot of people think it’s really easy. It’s not,” Craddock said. “Sometimes it’s about keeping egos in check a little bit. Not that they’re selfish, but it is what it is. It’s not going to change. When you get the ball, you better really do the best you can with it.”  

For Craddock, Babb and the rest of the staff, there are two main precedents to cite while spreading the virtue of the vaunted Tarboro T. For one, it’s led the Vikings to 25 straight wins and four state titles in less than a decade. Plus, when Todd Gurley, the 2017 NFL Offensive Player of the Year, was in high school, the same rules applied.

“Just imagine the statistics Todd would have had if we ran the I-formation and gave him the ball 25 times a game,” Craddock said. “That’s what we tell them — even when Todd was here, in my opinion the best back in the state of North Carolina and probably in the country, he might have got the ball on average maybe three or four times more than the fullback or halfback.”

And, of course, divvying up the carries beats losing for talented players like Caudle.

“I mean, I have thought about getting more carries but at the end of the day it’s just a team thing,” Caudle said. “If we’re winning, we’re winning.”