SOUTHINGTON - Jacob Drena isn‚Äôt a fan when one his of teammates gets overlooked, especially one that has been playing at a high level.
That‚Äôs why after Wednesday night‚Äôs Apple Valley Classic win over rival Cheshire - the Southington football team‚Äôs seventh in a row over the Rams - the senior signal caller made sure to tell reporters how important running back Tanner LaRosa has been to the Blue Knights‚Äô success.
‚ÄúI know everyone wants to make it, ‚Äėoh Drena throwing the ball or Will Downes catching this, [Jacob] Flynn catching this,‚ÄĚ Drena said. ‚ÄúBut Tanner‚Äôs really lighting it up. It‚Äôs great to have a guy back there like that.‚ÄĚ
LaRosa has become, and perhaps a little too quietly for some of his teammates, one of Southington‚Äôs best players on offense.
Against Cheshire, the senior tailback ran for 143 yards and two touchdowns to be named the game‚Äôs overall MVP. It was the fourth time this season LaRosa has rushed for 120 yards and two touchdowns or more. Since the mid-season bye week, he‚Äôs run for 625 yards and nine scores.
‚ÄúThroughout the season, I just gotten used to the plays more,‚ÄĚ LaRosa said. ‚ÄúThe linemen and I have bene on the same page. Every time I‚Äôm coming out onto the field, they‚Äôre pumping me up and I‚Äôm pumping them up and it‚Äôs just like a family environment on the field.‚ÄĚ
That‚Äôs perhaps been the biggest aspect in helping LaRosa during a season in which he is just 54 yards from the 1,000-yard mark - he currently has 946 yards - and will most likely get during Tuesday‚Äôs playoff game against Fairfield Prep. There‚Äôs also the fact that he averages 6.7 yards per carry and has a team-high 14 total touchdowns.
Last year, LaRosa was thrust into the starting role after the team‚Äôs No. 1 running back, Brandon Kohl, went down with a torn ACL on the first drive of the first game. LaRosa finished with just 390 yards (3.8 yards per carry) and didn‚Äôt have a single game with 100 yards, despite finding the end zone nine times.
‚ÄúI mean last year, I was trying to make a name for myself, trying to get a spot [on varsity] and play for the team,‚ÄĚ LaRosa said. ‚ÄúThis year, it‚Äôs all about what I can do for the team and help lead them to the championship and just trying to get everyone on board and on the same page.‚ÄĚ
It‚Äôs also helped that the running back has been able to play and learn behind some record-setters at Southington. Watching and listening at first can be just as important as on-the-field reps.
‚ÄúOne of my role models was Vance Upham,‚ÄĚ LaRosa said. ‚ÄúWhen I was a sophomore, he was a senior and I always looked up to him. He ran the ball fast and hard and knew how to get out of sticky situations.‚ÄĚ
Upham ran for 1,950 yards and 25 touchdowns on 223 carries his senior season as the Blue Knights went to finish with a 12-1 record. And while it may have taken a little bit for LaRosa and his offensive line to hit their stride, having a potent running game is often when Southington is at its best.
‚ÄúYou gotta play with balance and be able to do run the ball really well,‚ÄĚ head coach Mike Drury said. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs always important, especially when you get to the playoffs.‚ÄĚ
And as LaRosa‚Äôs quarterback pointed out, perhaps it time for people to start noticing the player that wears No. 25 more than they have been.
‚ÄúThe biggest thing for me as a quarterback is I know if we have a strong run game and the pass isn‚Äôt working as well,‚ÄĚ Drena said, ‚Äúthey have good coverage or you weren‚Äôt seeing what you expected to see, knowing that the running backs and the O-line can get it done and have the ability to get the ball into their hands is a great feeling. No one likes to go out there and be one-dimensional and feel like you have to do everything. I have plenty of trust in my guys out there.‚ÄĚ
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or firstname.lastname@example.org