Game of the Week: Raliers making the most of their time
Published on -10/18/2012, 12:01 PM
By CONOR NICHOLL
ELLIS -- In 2011, Ellis High School junior running back Gage Younger had trouble getting touches in the backfield because of the running and passing threat of all-state quarterback Riley Hunsicker. Junior Jared Mick finished with the fifth-most receptions on a squad that passed for 1,855 yards. Younger collected 46 tackles, fifth-most for the Railroaders, and Mick finished with 12 stops on a 5-5 team.
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This fall, Hayes offers plenty of superlatives for Mick, a starter at wideout and outside linebacker. Long known as either "J or J Mick" by the team, the school and even his own family, Mick leads the team with 17 catches for 172 yards and a score. He has 11 more catches than any other player. Defensively, Mick is tied for third with 29 tackles.
"He has improved the most of anybody that we have on our team from last year to this year," coach Butch Hayes said. "He has really stepped up his game. He practices hard, he is a leader on the field. He runs his routes hard every single time. He has stepped it up on defense, been making plays for us out there."
"Out of all the kids we have on our team, J Mick has helped this team more than any other player," Hayes added.
As well, Younger has enjoyed plenty of carries, put together four straight 100-yard games and is Ellis' best tailback in three seasons. Younger has 79 carries for seven rushing TDs and a team-high 640 yards.
He also is tied with senior Cadyn McCoy for the team lead with 36 tackles. Senior quarterback Blake Hudson has 95 carries for 582 yards and eight scores.
Ellis has averaged 190 rushing yards a game, 6.3 yards per carry and 26.7 points per game, all top-three in the six-year Hayes era.
Last year, the Railers averaged 155.2 rushing yards per contest, 5.4 yards per carry and 26.1 points per game.
"Gage has done a great job for us," Hayes said. "That's one area that I think we are better in this year compared to last year. Last year, it was pretty much Riley (who rushed for 1,056 yards). Riley was making plays for us running and passing the football. This year, we are a little more diverse with Gage and Blake."
Mick and Younger have helped Ellis start 3-4, 1-1 in Class 2-1A, District 7. The Railers host Oberlin-Decatur Community (3-4, 1-2) in a key district contest Friday night. Assuming Oberlin beats one-win Leoti-Wichita County in Week 9, Ellis needs a win this week to keep its playoff hopes alive.
In 2010-11, Ellis' top rusher had been its quarterback. Jacob Kinderknecht led the team with 1,120 yards two seasons ago, and Hunsicker had his big year last fall. As a sophomore, Younger collected 32 carries for 132 yards and two scores. As a junior, those numbers bumped up to 80 carries for 354 yards and three TDs. Hunsicker led the team with 177 carries, most of which came after Ellis switched to a spread offense in early fall. Hayes knew Younger had ability, but couldn't use him often.
"We didn't have enough time to put the plays in to allow him to be successful," Hayes said. "During the off season, that was one of the focuses that I had, to get Gage the ball."
Younger, who weighed around 150 pounds last year, put on nearly 10 pounds this season. He has thrived with more carries and has collected games of 93, 133, 133, 115 and a career-high 148 yards in the last five weeks. Younger credited a passing game that set a season best with 151 yards last week for helping in his 148-yard day.
"The line has been opening up some big holes," Younger said. "Once we do a lot of passing stuff, we open up the run game and then it's not as expected, and then it starts to work."
Mick has provided a consistent threat offensively. Hayes labeled Mick "in between" as far as speed compared to other athletes, but said the senior has always worked hard. Hayes recalled Mick dropping just one ball all year and that was on a tough play where the ball went off the receiver's fingertips.
"It's easy for me now to get open on offense and I have good hands," Mick said. "Just try to catch the ball and make a play."
"Our quarterbacks trust him and when the ball is in the air, he is going to make the catch," Hayes added.
Defensively, Mick has intercepted a pass and collected a pass defended at outside linebacker, a position where he has been able to wreak havoc for a defense that has allowed fewer than 19 points in four games.
"I like it a lot," he said. "Sometimes it feels like you are out there on an island alone, but you come in screaming and try to force everything inside, make some tackles for loss in the backfield. Sometimes, it's easy. You can just fly in there. You don't even have to make a tackle sometimes. If there is a fullback coming as a lead blocker, just try to blow it up."