High School Football

Meet Nathan Mahaffey: Nation Ford’s game-changing running back who isn’t slowing down

Nation Ford’s Nathan Mahaffey has been the Falcons’ go-to player over the past two seasons and has changed Nation Ford from a mostly passing team to a mostly running team.
Nation Ford’s Nathan Mahaffey has been the Falcons’ go-to player over the past two seasons and has changed Nation Ford from a mostly passing team to a mostly running team.

In several meanings of the phrase, Nathan Mahaffey is a game-changer.

Opposing defenses game plan around him. His own coach game plans for him — orchestrating 20-plus rushes for him a game — and the senior doesn’t slow his stride as the game wears on.

In a way, even, Mahaffey is a program-changer: Not long before Mahaffey got to Nation Ford, the Falcons executed a run-and-gun type of offense known for racking up yardage through the air and for producing three college quarterbacks.

Since Mahaffey came on the scene last year, however, the Falcons have instituted more of a run-based offensive scheme. He set the school record for most rushing yards in a game last season with 277 against Chapin — and one of his goals this year is to break that record.

“You always have to adapt to your talent,” Nation Ford head coach Michael Allen said. “We knew Nathan was a great running back leading up to last year, and we knew he was a great running back last year. We catered some things to our running game, and we were able to change some things as well with a new offensive coordinator.”

Mahaffey is the fourth Shrine Bowl player from Nation Ford. He rushed for 1,607 yards on 264 carries last season to go along with 13 touchdowns on the ground. He is nearing that mark again this year: He’s rushed for eight touchdowns and 1,034 yards on 154 carries in six games. Despite the accomplishments, Mahaffey said his mind is on bigger things for himself and his teammates.

“I think I have improved a lot from last year,” Mahaffey said. “And I think we have improved a lot as a team. That has really helped me to get to where I need to be. Everybody wants to play this year, and we all believe we have a chance to get a ring this year.”

At only 5-10, 185 pounds, Mahaffey is not a bruising running back, yet he doesn’t seem to be afraid to attack any defensive line. He said he is quick to lower his shoulder to run through someone if that is what it takes.

“I think I am more of a power back, but I have speed so I can power through the line if I need to as well,” he said. “I like being able to control where the ball goes. I like hitting people and not being hit. I like to give the blow instead of taking one.”

Allen said play calls give opportunities for Mahaffey to be both an elusive runner and a power runner to the point he will run through people.

“He has no problem running between the tackles,” Allen said. “The thing that makes him so great is his vision. He has the ability to make cuts and be at full speed. His toughness, his vision and his quickness make him dangerous.”

Mahaffey has always played running back.

“When I first started playing football, I wanted to play quarterback, like every kid does,” he said. “Then I started looking into it more at the running back position and, yeah, I started liking it more.”

Mahaffey has pushed himself to get better at the position through hard work, which is paying off. He doesn’t have any offers yet, but he’s looking at schools like Georgia State University and Georgia Southern University. He recently took a visit to Limestone College in Gaffney.

“He has been recently getting evaluated by the (University of) South Carolina and has received a letter from Clemson congratulating him on the Shrine Bowl,” Allen said. “We think he will have opportunities after football season. He has done all he needs to do. He has great film. At the end of the day, at that next level, they are going to be trying to find an athlete that can make plays. And what makes him special is that he is multi-faceted. That increases his stock.”

Mahaffey still feels like there is a place for him to play somewhere out there.

“I know it’s the size,” he said. “I’m not 6-feet or 200 pounds. But I just have to find the right place.”

Mac Banks: mbanks@comporium.net, @MacBanksFM