Gideon Ituka spent the early part of his football career full of envy. When he started playing the sport at the age of 10, he was thrown into life as a lineman but felt ambivalent and a bit bored.
"I always wanted to touch the ball," he said. “I had the impression that the defenders always get the praise and get all the touchdowns. I knew that if I could play there, I would stand out."
At the age of 12, he was given the chance to be a ball carrier. Ituka fell in love with this game as a runner. He liked that this position gave him a sense of control. He knew that if he played well, he would give his team a much better chance of winning.
Five years later, Ituka became one of the best runners in the DC area. The Gaithersburg Senior starts his senior season with high expectations and commitment to Wisconsin. A 1.70m tall, 225lb thug with deceptive speed, Ituka loves watching Nick Chubb movies with the Cleveland Browns star. At his best, Ituka resembles his NFL hero, punching weak defenders and putting ambitious defenders to shame.
However, the dream of becoming an NFL runner, once one of the most prestigious positions in the sport, is tinged with uncertainty. Heitem valuecame into doubtIn recent years.The lifetime of a professional ball carrier.seems to be decreasing, diminished by issues of money, durability and paper. The situation became so serious that in July a group of prime ministers' supporters met at the Zoom Summit to discuss how to ensure that the position was respected and well paid.
Like pretty much everything else going on in the NFL—styles, strategies, and trends—this conversation spilled over to high school games. Players like Ituka are aware of this reassessment and it makes them think about their future.
"Some teams are starting to look down on the quarterback position and we don't get as much praise as we should," Ituka said. “Runners do a lot. I think it's overlooked."
Still appreciated in high school.
This new situation can be difficult for high school runners to understand, in part because it contrasts with the realities of a Friday night run when good running is still unequivocally and undeniably important.
"Kids will always want the ball in their hands," said Damascus coach Josh Klotz. "For me, high school football was always about driving the ball and stopping the run."
Last year, the Friday after Thanksgiving, Klotz and his team headed to River Hill for the semi-finals in Maryland. One-defeat Howard County powerhouse River Hill looked to turn their home-court advantage into a post-season loss. As Damascus got the start of the game, the Hawks defense tried to set the tone. Instead, he was run over.
After the first snap, Damascus passed the ball to senior runner Dillon Dunathan for 21 yards through the middle. Then he gave him the ball. And once more. And once more. The Swarmin' Hornets called eight plays in a row, all to Dunathan as they marched 73 yards down the field for their first touchdown. They completely dethroned the hosts, the Hornetswon 42:7.
Klotz estimates that in his attack, both in Damascus and during his previous stop at Richard Montgomery Stadium, he typically held the ball about 75 percent of the time. But last fall, when the Hornets made the playoffs thanks in large part to a dominant frontline and relentless campaigning from Dunathan (now a full-back at Albany University), Klotz estimates the team held the ball 95 percent of the time. After defeating River Hill, the Hornets survived in Oakdalewin the Maryland 3A Championship.
"If I could set up every game and hit the ball, I definitely would," Klotz said. "Last year we had the squad to do it, so it was a lot of fun."
In high school, where talent levels can vary widely and organized execution cannot always be ensured, ball handling remains the simplest and often most effective form of attack, whatever the plan.
Players who do it all
Perhaps the best crime in the Washington area. Last fall belonged to Freedom (Woodbridge). Eagles thatuse a high-flying differential, went 15-0,an average of 63 pointsyearned a Virginia Class 6 title. The Eagles loved throwing the ball, but sophomore Jeffrey Overton Jr. he finished the game with 2,599 rushing yards, a Prince William County single-season record.
"I love the attack spread," said Overton. “You never know where the ball will go. This keeps the other team in suspense."
Senior Champe Greg Spiller is another standout runner who finds himself on the no-pass offense. Knights head coach Lee Carter likes to describe his team's quick and creative system as "basketball on the court." The 5–11-pound and 200-pound playmaker Spiller appears primarily as a winger, capturing short screens and slants on the outside. Carter calls these routes "long switches."
In fact, Spiller is a runner. He started playing this position as a freshman at Champe. By his own admission, Spiller took time to get used to the role. At first he ran too straight and held the ball "like Odell [Beckham Jr.], with one hand. My coaches hated it."
Over time, he developed good technique and better eyesight. In July, he joined the University of Delaware, where he will play running back.
"If you look at my tape, it looks like the runner is following the designated routes," said Spiller. "I just look like that. I think the coaches at [college] realized I was much more agile [running backwards]. Therefore, I was not surprised that my offers appeared in such a position.
The Spiller's versatility is part of its appeal, and it has become a focus for many hopeful runners. Last month at Meade High in County, Anne Arundel Mustangs runner Zahire Mike approached coach Tanardo Sharps and asked what she could do to stand out. The senior, who had recently moved in with Christian from the Annapolis Area, was worried about his future as a runner.
Sharps, a former runner whoHe earned a place in the County Hall of FameAfter his illustrious career at Meade and Temple University, he considered his answer for a moment.
"Don't give them a reason to take you off the pitch," he told Mike. “You have to show your skills in every area of the job. You don't want people labeling you like you can't catch the ball or hit or do this or that. You have to be able to stay on the pitch."
Sharps knows that even the high school game has changed since he started dressing up in the late 90s. In those years, running required a simpler, downhill approach.
"When I arrived, you were in the first formation," he said. “There was no need to run the route tree. Everyone wants to have three losses in attack, but it takes something special.
Even when the situation changes, he believes in the value of his former position. In any case, the fact that he became a coach at his alma mater and running his own offensive made me believe that. Everything in football starts with running,” he said. This has not changed in high school and beyond.
“People still want to play that position in youth baseball or at the high school level; there's nothing better than crossing that goal line," Sharps said. “But when you start talking about college and career, things start to change a bit. …Some people think there are so many runners out there that you can build a strong body and do it. I don't understand".