Replacing your school’s all-time single-season rushing leader is something that could keep a coach up all night.
Then why does Pine Tree’s Kerry Lane sleep so well?
Gabe Nelson was a real workhorse last year for the Pirates. He plowed his way to a school-record 1,634 yards, including a single-game school best 278 yards in a win over Mount Pleasant.
Nelson has since taken his skills to play at the University of Texas-Permian Basin, leaving Lane the unenviable task of replacing District 9-5A’s rushing champion.
“You just don’t replace someone of Gabe’s talents. But what we’ve got this year, I really like,” said Lane.
What Pine Tree has is a couple of capable juniors — Jayden Smith and Tyler Sheffield — ready to fill the void left by Nelson’s graduation.
Smith saw some action on offense last year, but primarily played on defense at linebacker. Sheffield was a standout halfback on Pine Tree’s junior varsity before getting called up to the varsity late in the season.
The multiplicity and flexibility Smith and Sheffield afford Pine Tree is something that could pay huge dividends by season’s end.
“It’s definitely good to have two. When your handing the ball to them a lot, you want to have fresh legs in there, especially late in the game, Lane said. “Having two guys that we trust is gonna be huge for us this year. They’re kind of opposing styles. Jayden is more of an “A” gap runner, while Tyler is fast and shifty. It’s a nice change of pace.”
Smith has played on varsity since midseason of his freshman year in 2017. The 5-4, 174-pounder logged 83 carries for 382 yards and a 4.6 average. He actually eclipsed 100 yards in two games as a freshman.
Sheffield, standing 5-5, 153, is dangerous in space and has the wheels to take it to the house on any play he touches leather.
“I’d say they’re like thunder and lightening,” Pine Tree offensive coordinator Jason Bachman offered. “Their styles complement each other so well. Jayden is more compact and very physical. He’s the thunder. Sheffield is a little bit smaller. He’s not afraid of contact, but he’s got great vision and is very elusive. He’s lightening.”
Don’t expect exclusive packages for the pair. Their similarities are enough that they can be interchangeable.
“We try not to get in that world too much. Personally, I think if you get into those things where he does this, or he does that only, I think you’re tipping your hand,” Bachman explained.
Nelson was an every down back for the Pirates. He toted the rock 205 times last fall for a gaudy 8.0 average and 11 TDs. Smith and Sheffield should provide fresher legs late in the game and that fact can not be discounted.
“It would have been nice if we could have relieved some of that load on Gabe last year,” Bachman acknowledged. “I think we’ll be able to do that this year, because these two complement each other so well.
“What makes it fun working with them is they are really two high-character kids. They’re competitive and don’t want to come off the field, but it’s not to the point where one of them’s mad at the other.”
Smith and Sheffield started playing together the 7th grade and are good friends. And just as Bachman said, there isn’t any lingering jealousy or resentment in regards to playing time.
“I’m just excited to help my team out anyway I can,” said Smith. “Last year I was needed more on defense and that’s what I did. I look forward to playing more offense this season. Hey, third and short, I’m the man. Give me the ball and I’ll get a first down. Tyler is tough on the outside.”
“I feel like this duo is gonna do a well this year,” Sheffield said. “We work real good together and it’s gonna hard for teams to prepare for both of us. I’m not worried about the number of carries I get. I just want to win. We both want that.”