If one poses the question, “Why is Tarboro successful?” the answers will not be varied.
Some will point to the Vikings’ coaching staff, which does indeed deserve credit for Tarboro’s year-in, year-out dominance.
Many will note the undying support of the community.
Others will say it’s Tarboro’s top-class talent, of which there is plenty. Kansas City Chiefs running back Shaun Draughn is a Tarboro alumnus, as is Georgia freshman star Todd Gurley and Duke starting left tackle Takoby Cofield. Defensive end Tyquan Lewis soon will begin his college career at Ohio State.
And while all those factors certainly play a role, the reality of football – especially winning football – is that the game must be won on the field by players, not coaches or fans, and by all the players, not a few.
The truth is that Tarboro wouldn’t be winning state championships if not for its role players consistently changing games for the better.
“That’s what makes our program special: We have people beneath the scenes people don’t know about,” Tarboro coach Jeff Craddock said.
There was Kendall Jacobs, who ran for three touchdowns in the 2010 Eastern Regional finals with Gurley unable to play.
There was Ryan Hyman, who picked off a pass and batted away a key third down attempt on the final drive of the 2011 state championship game, not to be outdone by his crucial fumble return for a touchdown that helped the Vikings advance to the regional finals. There were Larry Jones and Cedrick Ilo, a pair of 5-foot-8 linebackers whose ever-reliable play combined for 17 tackles in the 2011 state title game.
No matter the losses from the previous year, the Vikings always have a propensity for finding play-making role players.
“These guys just don’t want to ride coattails, they want to help the team win because they all know what the team goal is,” Craddock said. “So when they get a chance, they play hard because they we’ve worked hard for it. I think that makes a difference.
“They seem to rise to another level and play a little better than what they are because they understand the importance of what they’re doing.”
Tarboro already had found its two X-factors this year. Junior running back Radja Bobbitt was watching for a portion of his JV career, and he was the forgotten man behind Quentin Roberson this season. The problem is that defenses seem to forget about him, too. He’s scored at least one touchdown in all of Tarboro’s playoffs games, including 181 yards on five carries in the third round.
“My freshman year, I didn’t know how to play too good, so I didn’t really play,” Bobbitt said. “As the season went on to the end, they started basing my 10th grade JV season on my performance, so I had a breakout year. Craddock liked the way I ran the ball, so he gave me a chance to start on varsity, and I’ve been making plays ever since.”
Bobbitt has allowed virtually no dropoff from Roberson. The two combined for nearly 400 yards in the regional semifinals victory against Elizabeth City Northeastern and have been a big reason why no team in the playoffs has shown even the slightest inclination it might slow Tarboro’s ‘T’ offense.
But while the offense has put up at least 46 points in every playoffs game this season, the defense has made most of those points unnecessary.
A surprisingly important part of the defense has been junior linebacker Rayshawn Battle, who, at 140 pounds, isn’t really a linebacker and wasn’t even a football player 24 months ago.
When Battle started, he could barely bench-press 95 pounds – he now proudly says he is at 215 – and he rarely saw playing time.
“I didn’t really get in my first year,” Battle said. “I didn’t start, and I hardly even played ’til the fifth, sixth game of the year. Then, my 11th grade year, Coach Craddock gave me my chance, and I just tried to take advantage.”
The Vikings coaching staff moved Battle from cornerback to linebacker because of the high number of opponents playing the spread offense. He has flourished in his new spot, taking an interception back for a touchdown in the regional finals to remove all doubt from the final result.
“We started playing these spread teams, and we said, ‘Hey, let’s move this kid to linebacker and get some more speed on the field,’” Craddock said. “We always knew that he was a good, quick kid, but we found out he doesn’t miss tackles. He just loved it and took pride in it. Now, he gets this huge pick-six, and it’s like, where did this kid come from?”
That question always seems to coincide with Tarboro’s state championships. But it’s an easy question. It’s all about philosophy.
“It’s Tarboro football: You gotta learn to stay humble,” Battle said. “It’s not about you. It’s about the team.”
“Those guys step and fill roles, and they know there’s no excuses,” Craddock said. “It doesn’t make a difference to us if somebody goes down. It’s just, ‘Who’s No. 2?’
Nick Piotrowicz can be reached at 407-9952 or npiotrowicz@ rmtelegram.com.