Wednesday, December 10, 2008

McFadden is a key player

By Joe Conroy

Published: December 3, 2008

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Today: Jerell McFadden stands out on Osbourn’s team.
Friday: Osbourn gets prepared to for the long trip to Blacksburg.
Saturday: Local school reaction, plus a game preview, including information on the starting line-up, stats, etc.
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At first glance, Jerell McFadden doesn’t strike anyone as a fantastic physical specimen. He’s a decidedly average 5-foot-10, 176-pound senior at Osbourn.

Put a football helmet on his head and a set of pads on his shoulders and McFadden becomes an every-down play making super athlete.

By nearly all accounts McFadden is one of the biggest (figuratively, anyway) reasons the Eagles are playing in their second state final in the last three years, facing Oscar Smith Saturday in the Division 6 title game. He plays offense, defense and special teams, providing significant contributions in all three.

Were he allowed to, you might find McFadden serving hot dogs at the Osbourn concession stand at halftime. He is so integral to the Eagles success that coach Steve Schultze actually moved McFadden from quarterback to running back early in the season to get more out of his pure athleticism.

“In our minds Jerell is the (regional) player of the year offensively and defensively,” Schultze said. “I’ve been saying he’s the best two-way player in the state of Virginia. He’s the heart and character of the team.”

It might seem to be hyperbole, but McFadden’s numbers back up just about everything the coach says. He is the Eagles’ (9-4) leading rusher with 1,218 yards and 16 touchdowns, averaging 5.5 yards a carry; he caught 22 passes for 250 yards and a score; threw for three touchdowns as a passer on seven completions; and he averaged more than 21 yards per kick return.

But his most important role might be as safety on defense. In the Northwest Region final against Woodbridge, one of the favorites to return to the state final, McFadden was among the first defenders to reach Vikings star running back De’Antwan Williams at or near the line of scrimmage.

“There’s no better safety in the state,” Schultze said. “The kid’s got speed and he’s such a physical kid. We don’t beat one of the best teams in the state in Woodbridge without him filling the alley and tackling Rocket (Williams) and causing fumbles.

“Usually De’Antwan breaks those tackles and it’s McFadden who’s coming up and making those stops. Williams still had 100 yards rushing, but he didn’t have the big one.”

A week later McFadden had perhaps his finest performance as a high school player, scoring five touchdowns and amassing more than 220 yards of total offense. He, of course, contributed on defense as
well, intercepting a pass that set up one of those scores.

“I feel like I am a big part of winning and getting to the state final,” McFadden said. “I know I have to come out and play my A-game.”

McFadden has been an iron man since little league football he said and when he reached high school there wasn’t a question in his mind whether or not he’d continue to do so.

“I was just going to play both ways. I like both of them: I like hitting, I like scoring touchdowns,” he said. “I knew I was going to play both ways. You get tired here and there, but you’ve just got to keep fighting.”

Starting the season at quarterback like he had the year before, McFadden was moved to running back so Schultze could insert junior Thomas Keith under center four games into the 2008 campaign. The decision turned out to be one of the best Schultze made this year as the Eagles rebounded from a 3-4 start to win their last six games, beating three straight unbeaten teams.

But the experience at quarterback became an asset against Woodbridge in the playoffs when Keith was injured in the second half. Schultze sent McFadden in as the signal caller without hesitation, knowing McFadden was prepared and confident in the situation.

McFadden’s cool came into play in the final moments of the game with a slim 24-20 lead. Osbourn, having just stopped Woodbridge on fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line, needed to reach the 11 for a first down so the Eagles could run out the final three minutes and 31 seconds for the win. If the Vikings were able to hold the Eagles to a three-and-out, Woodbridge would have a shot at winning the game likely with good field position.

“In such a close ball game, we were contemplating that if we didn’t get (the first down) maybe take the safety in that situation,” Schultze admitted. “I just was praying for first downs. We went to our heavy, single-wing package for power football and our offensive line did a great job and Jerell got through some creases.”

McFadden was responsible for all 35 yards picked up on that series, including nine on a third-and-six at the 5.

Oscar Smith, the sixth team to enter a game against Osbourn with an undefeated record and yet another favorite to win a state title, may see just an average-looking football player when they see McFadden on the gridiron this weekend. But if the Eagles get more of that McFadden magic, it’ll be Osbourn carrying a state championship trophy home on the bus.

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