Ever since Rich Dutton arrived at Lawrence County, the Devils offense was built on the running game.
Last year that changed.
With a undersized offensive line, and their top running back transferring just prior to the season, the Red Devils morphed into a spread passing attack.
And it worked.
Senior quarterback Austin Blankenship broke every Red Devil passing record, while receivers such as twins Tayi and Malik Strickland and Garrett Lee made big catch after catch.
Still, a solid rushing attack is needed to bring balance and it will surely be a focus.
After the transfer of Zaye Boyd, the running back job became by committee. Sophomore Allen Johnson became the lead back and finished as the team’s leading rusher.
Being thrown in the fire so quickly wasn’t something he was unprepared, but it’s still never ideal.
“I’ve been practicing with the varsity since I was a freshman so I was ready. Jacob (Gholston, a graduate from the year before) helped me a lot,” said Johnson.
Still, despite his solid season, there was still plenty of musical chairs. 11 different players recorded a carry as the Devils rushed for just over 1,000 yards as a team.
This year things should be much different.
Johnson is a year older, both in age and experience. He has firmly taken hold of the running back spot, as well as a leadership role in the offense.
“I’m starting to adapt to it,” Johnson said. “I feel like I can take the heat and step up at any time.”
Head coach Rich Dutton knows his team needs that strong rushing attack and believes they will have it this year.
“You hate going into any season of unsure of being able to run the ball,” he said. “We had some success with the passing game last season, but your odds are better if you have a consistent four-yard rusher.”
There won’t be as much musical chairs anymore, but Johnson also won’t be alone as fellow junior Gage Dutton will be in the backfield with him. Dutton started last year at H-back, but this year will see more snaps at running back, giving the Devils the one-two punch that they thrive on.
“I’ve gotten faster since last year so I’ve been expecting more carries,” Dutton said. “Being back in the backfield feels good.”
In reality, Dutton could be doing a lot of things. Rich Dutton referred to him as a swiss army knife.
“He’s had a good offseason, his speed has increased,” said Rich Dutton. “Last year he had really good hands, knew the plays and could be depended on to block. This year we’re still going to ask him to do those things, but now we’re going to do a little bit more with him.”
Having a strong one-two punch at running back is vital for the Red Devils.
“Having that established second back is important. You love competition, it makes players grow,” Rich said. “Having backs, plural, is big. Last year we were young and we had to get creative.”
A big thing that will help the rushing attack will be an improved offensive line. Brody Franks and Colton Reeves will be back for the third year as starters. The rest of the line will be filled by players with more size than the Devils had last year.
“Our o-line is bigger and working harder than they ever have before,” Gage Dutton said. “We have a lot of chemistry so we feel like we’ve got it.”
“These guys have had a really explosive offseason and we’re able to put some really strong guys up there,” Rich Dutton said. “However, the game is still new to some. So while our strength is up we still have to get the IQ up but that’s going to happen any year you replace three out of five.”
Johnson and Dutton believe with a stronger rushing attack and offensive line along with the same passing attack led by quarterback Ty Hutto and his slew of receivers, the Red Devils can put up big numbers in the fall.
“I think it’s going to be bigger numbers than last year,” Gage said. “They can rely more on us for the run game and with Ty and the passing game, we’re going to have a very explosive offense.”