Dan Bangura had a goal in mind for his junior season: Run for 2,000 yards.
The junior running back at Harvest Prep in Canal Winchester, Ohio, had accomplished that by just after midseason, so now what? 3,000 yards?
“I haven’t thought about that,” he said. “I’ve passed my goal and we’re working on our team goals. We’re about to get to the playoffs.”
Bangura has 2,753 yards through nine games – although it’s closer to seven games of actual playing time given some lopsided victories.
That total makes him the nation’s 11-man football rushing leader, according to statistics compiled by MaxPreps. With 220 carries, he’s averaged 12.5 yards per carry. He has at least 300 yards in six games, 281 and 295 in two others, and 160 in the season opener when he missed the second half with an ankle injury.
“Last year, I had 1,800 yards and this year, I wanted to set a higher goal,” he said. “I want to get better each year and so I set 2,000. I wanted to get that before I went any further. I wasn’t thinking about 3,000.”
What he fails to mention about those 1,800 yards from a year ago is that he missed the last two games of the regular season and first round of the playoffs with a high ankle sprain. He returned in a second-round loss and had more than 250 yards on the ground.
“The great thing about him is he’s extremely humble and knows this is a team game,” coach Milan Smith said. “He prepares every day as if the opportunities are limited and gives everything to seize the moment.
“As good a football player as he is – and he’s one of the best I’ve coached in 24 years — he’s an even better person. He’s taken it all in every day as if he’s last kid in the nation in rushing, not the first. He’s the type of player who you love to see get acknowledged.”
Bangura’s pursuit of the national rushing title, Smith said, has been “exciting, it’s created a buzz around the school. … The players have bought into him and into the national exposure for our kids, our team, our school and our building.”
Bangura says his teammates “are very excited about it and happy for me. We work as a team every day in practice. They congratulate me and I thank them. They’re just as excited as I am.”
Harvest Prep is perennially one of the top rushing teams in Ohio – “It’s who we are and what we do,” Smith says – and runs a tempo offense with a goal of 80 offensive snaps a game. Bangura has carried the ball more than 30 times in only two games, both early in the season.
“If you look at the numbers you’d think he touches the ball on every play, but it’s only about a third of the time,” Smith said.
Harvest Prep, located on the east side of Columbus, got off to an 0-3 start but has won its last six heading into the regular season finale Saturday against Fairfield Christian Academy (Lancaster).
The school had 3,000 rushing yards two years ago, except that was split between two players – one with 1,800 and the other with 1,200. Bangura has a chance to do it all alone.
His longest run of the season came last week – 81 yards on Harvest Prep’s first offensive play of the game. It was a chance to get out in the open and run for Bangura, who also ran the opening leg of the Harvest Prep 4×100 meter relay team that made states the last two years.
“It was nice,” he said. “I’m used to running hard in practice every day. It felt good. … I look forward to making big runs and it helped build some momentum.”
The biggest concession to his offensive workload has been that he no longer starts on defense, instead playing in spots.
“The irony is he is probably the best DB we have in coverage,” Smith said.
Bangura has been playing football since he was 6, and always enjoyed running with the ball. That hasn’t changed.
“Whatever I can do to help the team is what I want to do,” he said, but allows, “Right now, I’m liking offense better.” And then he laughed.
An honor roll student, Bangura was voted as a junior captain.
“He’s dedicated to his craft,” Smith said. “He’s really done the right things in the classroom and on and off the field.”