He’s outspoken, he’s talented and he might be the most exciting high school football player in Louisville.
Meet Manual High School senior running back Michael Nero, who believes he’s the best running back in Kentucky and has his coach raving about his skills.
“He’s always gaining yards,” Crimsons coach Oliver Lucas said. “He very seldom takes a negative play. When the lights are the brightest, that’s when he’s at his best. …
“He has it all. Mike can run around you. Mike can run through you. He has the whole package. He has the ‘Ooh-wee’ factor as I call it.”
A 5-foot-11 209-pounder, Nero rushed for 1,832 yards and 20 touchdowns in 12 games last year and will begin his quest to better those numbers this season when the Crimsons open their 2014 campaign Friday at Central.
He’s also hoping to expand his college options this season, as Toledo and Morehead State are his only scholarship offers so far. Nero said Kentucky, Louisville, Western Kentucky, Missouri, Louisiana-Lafayette, Ball State, Bowling Green and Western Michigan are among others showing interest.
Lucas wants the best for Nero but also doesn’t mind that his running back hasn’t received many offers yet.
“It keeps him hungry,” Lucas said. “Right now he’s so pissed off at the world and committed to showing he’s the best person in the state. I like that. He doesn’t accept being No. 2.”
In fact, Nero has a theory on why he’s not ranked higher by recruiting services. (He’s a three-star recruit by Scout.com, a two-star recruit by Rivals.com.)
It goes back to his first days at Manual, where he moved from running back to quarterback for the freshman team. As a sophomore he split time at quarterback with Mason Motley before moving back to running back as a junior.
“It was frustrating because I couldn’t find if I wanted to be a quarterback or a running back,” Nero said. “But once I looked into it there aren’t really any 5-10 or 5-11 quarterbacks at the Division I level. … The summer after my sophomore year I committed to being a running back.”
And he provided plenty of memorable moments as a junior. He rushed for a career-high 248 yards on 42 carries and scored the game-winning touchdown with 19 seconds left to beat Ballard 14-7 on Sept. 20. He ran for 233 yards and three scores in a 32-29 victory over Male on Oct. 25. He closed his season with 185 yards and two touchdowns in a 49-20 loss to Trinity in the second round of the Class 6-A playoffs.
“The colleges want to see if I can do this my second year,” said Nero, who wears No. 27 in tribute to his favorite running back, Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens. “They want to see if that first time I was a fluke. I’m grinding 10 times harder than I did last year, so I feel like this season should be a good one.”
If he has enough “Ooh-wee” moments this year, Nero could garner consideration for Kentucky’s Mr. Football honor.
Madison Southern running back Damien Harris is considered the overwhelming front-runner for that award, as he’s the No. 1-ranked running back in the country by Rivals.com and a five-star recruit.
“I feel like I’m the best running back in the state, but that’s no knock on Damien Harris,” Nero said. “He did what he needed to do. … He has more years at running back than me. If I had as many years as he did, I feel like I’d be up there as a five-star recruit.”
Jason Frakes can be reached at (502) 582-4046 and followed on Twitter @kyhighs.