INDIAN TRAIL — When asked about senior running back Jaylen Coleman’s breakout season running the football in 2017, Porter Ridge coach Mike Hertz cracked a smile.
“Well, I wasn’t a very smart coach when he was a sophomore,” Hertz said with a laugh. “I put him at receiver and we didn’t get him the ball enough.”
Two catches for six yards to be exact.
So, before the 2017 season Hertz told Coleman that he would be switched to running back for his junior year.
“I told him we were going to hand him the ball at running back so that way we would make sure he got the football in his hands,” Hertz said.
Since, Coleman was handed the ball a lot. He would rush 179 times for 1,287 yards and 15 touchdowns as the Pirates advanced to the second round of the playoffs while finishing with an 8-5 record.
Coleman had just 73 yards rushing in the Pirates’ first two games last season, but from there he eclipsed the 100-yard mark seven times. Coleman rushed for 487 yards in the last three games of year alone, and finished the season averaging 7.2 yards a carry.
“It took him a few games to get used to it,” Hertz said. “But the last six games he was hard to tackle. This year, he is evolving into an even better running back and becoming an even better leader as he was voted as one of our team captains this year.”
Coleman last played running back in middle school, but is adjusting well to his new role in the Pirate backfield.
“I really gravitated to it,” Coleman said. “We are working hard and we are looking forward to a great season. Our team will go as the O-line goes and they are doing a good job and getting better.”
Coleman’s success his junior year didn’t end with football as he was crowned a state champion in the 100-meter dash at the Class 4A track and field championships.
This summer, Coleman attended a football skills camp at Duke that resulted in a scholarship offer from the Blue Devils. Coleman wasted little time committing, saying it’s a perfect fit.
“Duke is the perfect school for me, academically and athletically,” he said. “Everyone was on the same page and the message was the same. They want to make me a better person. They all want the best for me. The players and coaches are also passionate about the program and the school.”
With his future set, Coleman is focusing on leading a potent Porter Ridge ground attack that also includes senior quarterback Grayson McCall and senior running back Malcolm Hines.
McCall averaged 6.7 yards a carry last season when he rushed 135 times for 907 yards and 12 touchdowns. McCall also averaged 110 passing yards passing a game, and was named the Southwestern 4A Offensive Player of the Year last season.
Hines did his part, too. Last year he averaged nine yards a tote and ran 131 times for 1,174 yards and 11 touchdowns.
As a team in 2017, Porter Ridge averaged 317 yards rushing a game and tallied 45 touchdowns on the ground.
And all of that firepower is back behind an improving offensive line.
“We are excited about this year because we have Malcolm and Jaylen back in the backfield,” McCall said. “We also have four seniors up front, and it all starts with them. Everyone has bought into the game plan and what the coaches are teaching us. We are going to go out and do the best that we can and see what happens.”
To counter the already productive run game, Hertz said he’s planning to use McCall’s throwing skills even more this season.
“Grayson is a tremendous player and a very competitive player,” Hertz said. “I tell a lot of people that when the lights come on he is our most competitive player. He can run it just as well as he can throw it. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to put a consistent passing game around him the last few years. We have really worked hard on that to get a little more balance.”
He said Hines, who had just five catches last year, is also a threat catching the football out of the backfield and will be used more in passing situations.
“Malcolm is a great all-around player,” Hertz said. “What a lot of people don’t see about Malcolm is that he is a very good receiver. He is one of the smartest football players we have. He is just a good, all-around player. We put a lot on him offensively. When teams concentrate too much on Jaylen and Grayson, Malcolm steps up for us.”
Porter Ridge lost 17-10 to eventual state champion Harding in the second round of the playoffs last year, but now have the tools to make an even deeper run this season, especially for a league title.
“We always have high expectations,” Hertz said. “We have a team with veteran leadership and we have some good, young kids on defense.”