By John Stepp For The Endzone
With the evolution of the spread offense, many defensive coordinators have spent restless nights trying to prepare their teams to take the field on Fridays. But with the North Laurel Jaguars, opposing defenses have to figure out how to stop the thunder and lightning duo of quarterback Michael Nelson and running back Gabe Blair.
Nelson and Blair have been the Jaguars’ go-to tandem for the past two years, and are looking for even better things in 2013. Blair, who has started at tailback since his sophomore year, has amassed close to 3,000 yards rushing in his career at North Laurel, while Nelson is right behind him with just over 2,000 yards. While they are both dangerous weapons, Jaguars Coach Chris Larkey has struggled at times with whom to give the ball to.
“Both are very special players and sometimes it makes it difficult on me to call plays. With those two in the backfield, I try to split it up, not to make anyone happy, but because it keeps defenses honest,” said Larkey. “If they were playing on any other team, they would carry the ball 40 times a game, but since we have them both, I try to get the ball to them as much as possible.”
There could not be a more complete pair than Nelson and Blair, who complement each other perfectly in the Jaguars running-oriented attack. Nelson cripples defenses with his blazing speed, while Blair carries the ball between the tackles to control the clock. They each have their own niche on the football field, and both of them like it that way.
“I feel like playing with Gabe helps me out a lot,” said Nelson. “He carries the ball at least 25 times a game when we’re playing against good defenses, and those linebackers start to crash down on him. That’s when I can fake it and get around the corner and break a long run.
“I’m the guy that gets three or four yards up the middle and wears down the defense and helps us keep control of the clock,” said Blair. “Michael is the one who can break it for a 80-yard touchdown.”
The players aren’t just close on the field. In their spare time they like to spend time fishing and hunting together. They are even partners on the North Laurel Bass Fishing team.
“I’m not a big hunter, but I still go with him sometimes, but we both like to fish,” Nelson said. “We are partners on the fishing team at school, and we enjoy doing that.”
Blair attributed the closeness off the field to their relationship as a quarterback and running back, which goes all the way back to the eighth grade.
“We started playing football together in the eighth grade and he was the quarterback and I was the running back, so that is where it started,” said Blair. “We got close then, and we have come up through high school together. I think the relationship of him being the quarterback and me the running back has helped us stay close.”
With their close relationship comes the fact that there is not jealousy between the two. Both players have the same goals and that is for the team to get North Laurel’s first-ever playoff win.
“We just want to do what it takes to win. We’re focused this year on winning that first playoff game,” said Blair. “If Michael carries the ball more than me and we win, I don’t care, and he is the same way. We want what is best for the team.”
Their unselfishness is one of the things Larkey likes best in his two leaders.
“They’re very unselfish players. Gabe is the type of kid who will do anything we ask. Last year, he broke his collarbone and we didn’t know it. He played several games with it like that, and never complained,” said Larkey. “Michael is not really a traditional quarterback. He was offered a scholarship by EKU and will probably play in the slot for them, but he will do whatever we ask him to do if it helps the team.”
Even with no jealousy between them, they still like a little friendly competition every now and then. It’s often that the two see who will have the most yards or even the most scores in a game.
“Gabe always says that he’s the one who gets us down the field, but I get to score,” Nelson joked. “Actually I will get the long runs, and he always gets the ball on the goal line. It’s really doesn’t matter to us, though.”
No matter the scores or the stats, as long as the win column is filling up, both Nelson and Blair are happy. And with the best team the Jaguars have fielded under Larkey’s tenure, this may be the year to rack up those wins.
“We have a good team this year, and it has a lot to do with those two players. They’re a special bunch,” Larkey said. “This is the first team that I’ve had that I was with all four years, and it means a lot. We want to keep getting better and send them out the right way this year.”