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Comets’ ground game in good hands with this quartet

They've got their backs

Dillan Heffelfinger (left), Brady Rude, Jake Snow and Mac Olson have jelled into one of the most productive backfields in the state this season for Newman. The Comets will play Staunton on Friday in the 2A state championship game in DeKalb.
Dillan Heffelfinger (left), Brady Rude, Jake Snow and Mac Olson have jelled into one of the most productive backfields in the state this season for Newman. The Comets will play Staunton on Friday in the 2A state championship game in DeKalb.

To watch Mac Olson play fullback, you'd think he'd been there all his life … or at least his entire senior season. The 5-foot-10, 205-pound back runs and blocks with such gusto and confidence that he sure doesn't look like he's only been in the starting lineup the past 3 weeks.

But the academic all-stater is the epitome of what life is like in the Newman Comets' system. Lose a starter in a first-round playoff win? No sweat, just plug in the next guy.

Since taking over the fullback spot when 5-8, 170-pound sophomore Brady Rude got dinged up against Fieldcrest, Olson has done nothing more – or less – than solidify his spot in the starting lineup, leaving Rude free to focus on flying all over the field as a linebacker while spelling his fellow backs from time to time.

"It shows how deep we are, and how many guys we have who can play at a high level," Olson said. "The second-stringers are just as good as the starters ... and it's easier to do behind our line. They're the big reason why we can all run the ball so well."

Junior Dillan Heffelfinger summed it up perfectly. The 5-10, 185-pound wingback coined a phrase – albeit unwittingly – during the Comets' unofficial informal state finals media junket Monday afternoon.

"I feel all of our guys are Newman-worthy backs," Heffelfinger said. "All of our backs are productive, and get the job done when called on. All through the Newman process, you learn how to run this stuff and what it takes to play your position well."

The perfect example of that could actually be found on the Newman sideline a couple of times this postseason. After Rude left the first-round game against Fieldcrest with an ankle injury, he wasn't concerned in the least about his replacement filling his shoes; Olson ran for 41 yards and a touchdown.

Saturday, when the Comets lost the leader of that pack in Jake Snow after a hard third-quarter hit, one look at the 5-5, 155-pound senior wingback told the same story.

"You could watch him and see that he wasn't worried at all when he couldn't go back in," Heffelfinger said. "He knew we'd be OK without him."

Such depth – and talented depth, at that – is a luxury that longtime coach Mike Papoccia has come to depend on … but it's not one he takes for granted.

It's also a load off every one of the backs' minds – and shoulders – when they realize that they have to do only their jobs because the other guys are so dependable about doing theirs.

"It's comforting, for sure," said Snow, who leads the crew with 1,584 yards and 28 TDs. "If you need a break or get hurt and have to go out, you know the guy stepping in will get the job done. Everyone can break off a 10- or 15-yard run, or throw that killer block. We've got great backs across the board, and all of us can do the things that make us successful."

That makes it incredibly easy for Papoccia and his coaching staff to spread the wealth. Well, that plus the fact that there are no egos or jealousy getting in the way.

"They're all such great complements to each other," Papoccia said. "They all block so well for each other, they all mesh well, and they're all capable of making big plays at key times."

In addition to Snow's 1,000-yard season, Rude has run for 641 yards and 8 touchdowns, Heffelfinger has amassed 601 yards and 14 TDs, and Olson has run for 407 yards and six scores. Throw Elliot Jensen's 402 yards and seven TDs into the mix, and Newman starts to look like a many-headed hydra to its opponents.

"It's a good feeling to know that we have so many guys who understand their role and what it takes to win," Olson said. "It makes it a lot of fun to be a part of this group. One guy can have a big game, then the next game, it's somebody else's turn to carry the load.

"Whoever is hot that day, he's going to get the ball, and we're all hungry to be the guy they're relying on."

And the hot hand has changed like the weather – and even more quickly, sometimes from drive to drive. Snow has 480 yards and seven TDs on 67 rushes in the playoffs, while Heffelfinger has 74 carries for 343 yards and six scores. Olson (45 rushes, 241 yards, 2 TDs) and Rude (30-126, TD) have also cleared the century mark in the postseason.

That hunger to be the go-to guy on any given series isn't just a recent thing. It's one of the reasons, along with that aforementioned always-studly line, why the Comets have had so many all-conference, all-state, all-star backs throughout the years under Papoccia's guidance.

It's a legacy the current Comets don't take lightly, and one that makes them proud to be the next link in the chain.

"All those guys who came before us set the bar, and we just do our best to try and meet it every time we're out there," Rude said. "It's a lot to live up to, but it energizes you to think about what you can do to help fill their shoes.

"This position has been loaded in the past, and it's an honor to be the next in line behind those guys. We just want to keep the tradition going."

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