Mansfield’s Avery Chatman was the leading rusher in the first game of the post-Kennedy Brooks era. Richard W. Rodriguez
Mansfield’s Avery Chatman was the leading rusher in the first game of the post-Kennedy Brooks era. Richard W. Rodriguez

High School Football

Why Mansfield, Legacy football defy trends and focus on the running game

By Shawn Smajstrla

September 08, 2017 03:54 PM

In an era of high-octane offense and passing games, some schools still like to start on the ground. Both Mansfield High and Legacy place a priority on running the football, and if Week 1 results are any indication, defenses had better prepare for a heavy dose of the run game.

Mansfield has been a run-heavy offense dating back to its years under former head coach Jeff Hulme. That was highlighted in recent years with standout running back Kennedy Brooks, who commonly carried 25 times or more per game.

“I believe in order to be successful you have to be able to run the ball,” said Tigers coach Dan Maberry, who served as offensive coordinator under Hulme. “I truly believe that as a coach. I believed that as a coordinator.”

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Broncos coach Chris Melson has a similar school of thought.

“I’ve never seen a team that’s been good for a long period of time that didn’t have a ground game,” he said. “I think this game is still, if you run the ball and stop the run, you have a chance to be successful. It’s just the way the game goes. You look at any state championship team, and they can run the football and depend on the run. So that’s where we start.”

Mansfield ran the ball 36 times for 274 yards in its season-opening victory against Summit. Legacy ran it 36 times for 236 yards in a 35-14 win over Wichita Falls Rider.

For Mansfield, a lingering question entering the season was how the offense would look without Brooks as the featured back. Four different running backs received multiple carries.

“Each of them gives us something different. The change of pace of each back can cause some problems for the defense,” Maberry said. “We don’t expect our running backs this year to carry the ball 25 or 30 times a game. We want those guys, when they get their opportunities to carry the ball, to try to be themselves and the best they can, not try to be Kennedy Brooks.”

I don’t want them to feel the pressure of trying to be Kennedy [Brooks]. Just be who you are to the best of your ability.

Tigers coach Dan Maberry

Avery Chatman got 10 carries, totaling 116 yards and a pair of TDs.

“He did a great job,” Maberry said. “He broke one long run, read his blocks well and was patient. He made some guys miss. I thought he did an exceptional job.”

K.J. Hawkins ran it eight times for 52 yards. Jaqulis Coleman and Frankie Owusu-Anasah also got multiple touches.

Legacy, on the other hand, relied heavily on Grant Johnson, who handled the lion’s share of carries with 23 of them for 203 yards and three TDs.

“First game, you’ve got a new quarterback, so you don’t want to put a ton on that guy,” Melson said. “We’ve got an experienced offensive line and a really good running back, so you want to play to your strengths, at least early, and work on the other things as you go.”

Legacy, like Mansfield, has been fortunate with a series of talented running backs, dating back to multi-year starters Kijana Amous and Kam Sessions, both now at Stephen F. Austin.

Despite the DNA of a run-first offense, both coaches maintain they still want to throw the ball.

“I think that’s the perception of us, that we just want to run, run, run,” Maberry said. “But we want to be effective throwing the ball as well.”

“We want to run the football and throw the football off that,” Melson added. “If we can establish the run game, our pass game becomes a little more effective. If we can’t run it, we’re in trouble.”

For the backs at Mansfield, there are big shoes to fill. But Maberry insists his offense doesn’t necessarily need a Kennedy Brooks to have a successful running attack.

“Kennedy was a special back, but these guys are special, too,” he said. “I don’t want them thinking they need to be Kennedy, but learn from Kennedy. [Brooks] was successful because he was patient and read his blocks and that’s what we want these backs to do. I don’t want them to feel the pressure of trying to be Kennedy. Just be who you are to the best of your ability.”