Mark Sebree had one of the best seats in the house to one of the best shows in the Valley Football Association last season.
An apprentice running back at Stevens Point Area Senior High, he watched Panthers senior Zach Pozorski slice up defenses with the skill of a butcher, cleverly following blockers to a South Division best 1,331 yards and 17 touchdowns.
In keeping with the SPASH tradition of utilizing a workhorse in the running game, Pozorski was “the man,” receiving the bulk of the carries and his 6-foot, 200-pound frame was able to withstand the weekly punishment.
Since he took just 15 handoffs his during junior season — gaining 64 yards — Sebree watched and took mental notes.
“It was good to be behind Zach. He was a great running back and I’m glad I had the opportunity to see his running style,” Sebree said. “I learned what it means to be a true running back.”
Sebree was next in line to carry the load in the running back hierarchy at SPASH.
But at 5-foot-8 and in the range of 170 pounds, Sebree isn’t exactly built to play the part of a workhorse.
Enter juniors Ethan Clark (5-9½) and Jared Dudas (5-6), who also are a part of the the running back equation, though none boast a prototypical 30-carries-a-game physiques.
Coaches discussed using all three backs, but coach Pete McAdams ultimately settled on Sebree and Clark as his primary ball carriers when the Panthers host D.C. Everest in the season opener tonight.
“For the first time in many years, we’re going to have a few different running backs taking the load this year,” McAdams said. “Right now, Ethan Clark and Mark Sebree are our two main guys going into Friday.
“Every coach would love to have a 4.6-second 40-yard, 200-pound guy that rushed for 2,000 yards coming back, but we really like the guys we have.”
It should be emphasized the current 1-2 punch of Sebree and Clark is far from written in stone for the entire season.
“Jared (Dudas) is scratching at their heels right now. Things could change week to week,” McAdams said.
Each of the three candidates features a different running style, despite their similar sizes.
Sebree is a speed rusher, capable of sneaking through holes in the line. Clark brings a physical style, preferring to run over would-be tacklers. Dudas is shifty, using his agility to leave defenders grabbing air.
The friendly competition has only served to bring the best out of all three of the running backs.
“It really makes me try a lot harder,” said Clark, who has been competing with Dudas for reps throughout much of their football careers. “It just makes me thrive to get get better.
“Us as backs help each other out out as much as we can. We’re around each other all time, so if we see a mistake, we want to pick up the other guy and help him improve.”
There is no guarantee that carries will be split 50/50 between Clark and Sebree tonight.
Who receives the carries will depend a lot on the ebb and flow of the game.
“Anything can happen over the course of a game,” McAdams said. “A tailback can be like 3-point shooter in basketball where he gets a hot hand and you just go with it and let him roll.”
Just like the Panthers will be rolling out a new look at running back this season.