ROCK HILL — Northwestern football coach Kyle Richardson isnt too big on surprises because they are either good or bad, seldom down the middle.
But before football practice began in August of 2010, he got one that put aq smile on his face. Running back LaThomas Long showed up and told Richardson he had moved from Pendleton to live with his mom, that he wanted to play football for the Trojans.
I had no idea who LT was when he came and asked if he could out for the team, Richardson said. But I could tell he was an athlete and invited him to come out. It was one of those surprises that worked out.
The Trojans run the Air Raid, offense, which is based on looking to pass first and run when the opportunity arises. You would think playing running back would be a blocker for the quarterback with four players split wide.
But in Richardsons offense, the running back is also a receiver, sometimes a safety valve to catch a short pass and go when the other receivers are blanketed or when the quarterback is about to go down.
At times Northwestern goes to the empty backfield and the running back lines up with the other receivers. Long likes it and filled some big shoes when running back Jarrett Neely graduated that season after helping lead the Trojans to the Class AAAA DII state championship.
We still run the same offense, but Im getting more passes thrown my way, Long said. When you are a running back, you want handoffs. But Ive worked hard and coach Richardson trusts me. He knows if I get targeted, there is q good chance Ill catch the ball.
That doesnt mean Long and the running game have been overlooked. Richardson pointes out that Long has had three big games to start the season and has taken on a bigger role in the offense.
Long has rushed 35 times for 338 yards and six touchdowns. He has eight catches for 86 yards and a TD for the 3-0. Trojans.
Northwestern puts it all on the line Friday night with a road trip to No. 1-ranked and 2-0 Byrnes. The Rebels are ranked sixth nationally in MaxPreps Writers Poll.
But a strange thing happened on the way to the showdown in Rebel Town. Northwestern, which averages 53.1 points, dropped from third to fourth in this weeks S.C. Prep Writers Poll. The Trojans wont be thinking about rankings when the game kicks off at 7:30 p.m. But they will surely be playing with a chip on their shoulder.
We fell a spot? the 5-foot-10, 185-pound Long said when he was told of this weeks poll. All we can do about it is play hard and hope we win. Thats our plan.
This is the biggest game Ive ever played in. No matter what happens the rest od my senior season it has to be. Its the kind of game players dream about. Im excited and so are the other players on our team.
Richardson loves Long; his enthusiasm and how he plays. He said Nelly, who plays for Alabama State, was faster but Long is a little bigger and more powerful.
Long seldom goes down on the first hit and is always stretching fro an extra yard are two when the posse catches up to him.
Running backs are a big part of football and really help a passing team, Richardson said. When we spread the field and LT is in the backfield, we can check off and hand it to him. We an swing him out to either side and throw him a short pass.
When he has the ball, we know LT is going to get us some yards. Hes been coming up big for us.
The nickname, LT, wasnt taken from former linebacker Lawrence Taylor. Long said it come from his favorite all-time player, former NFL running back LaDainian Tomlinson.
I saw him talking on TV once and could tell he was a great guy, Long said. And I watched his game and patterned my running style after his. Hes my hero. If I could be like anybody, its him. Hes a good role model.
Barry Byers • 329-4099