MUNCIE – When Central football coach Adam Morris made his return to the sidelines in Muncie, he still remembered Michael Nevings as a leader.
That’s no small feat, considering Nevings was a freshman in 2012 when Morris was last donning Bearcat purple.
Opponents likely remember Nevings as the small running back or defensive lineman who rotated in at various points. They see the 5-foot-5 player roll in and think one thing. His teammates, his coaches, they know better.
“I’m little and stuff, but I’m also one of the strongest dudes here,” Nevings said.
“Once they see me, my first run, they’ll be like, ‘Yeah, he’s not that small. You’ve really got to try to get him.’ “
Nevings says this while sitting on a chair in Central’s gym, sidelined for the moment with a sprained knee. While he will miss much of the preseason, he’ll likely find himself filling a range of spots for the Bearcats this season.
Part of the reason he can do that: his coach, years later, still remembers and has respect for Nevings’ presence and flexibility.
“Michael is a great kid,” Morris said. “There probably isn’t a kid who has worked as hard as he has for the last four years. He’s going to play on every special teams. He’s going to get some carries on offense.
“You put him anywhere and he’ll do it for you and he’ll give it maximum effort.”
That’s life when you’re noticeably the smallest player on the field, your own team knowing what you can do and opponents doubting you enough to provide a little extra chip.
Nevings packs on 170 powerful pounds into that 5-5 frame. His coach calls him a natural zone runner, and he runs with pop, even in limited duty.
That kind of power and strength was part of the reason he was a defensive lineman last year, along with the old staff’s preference for smaller, disruptive players up front (he made 37 tackles, 5 1/2 for loss).
This year he won’t play defense, though he’s listed as a safety, but he will likely factor in heavily in the backfield and see time on four special teams units. He’s only had 25 carries (for 113 yards and five scores) the past two years, working behind a committee in 2013 and Parker Phelps last fall.
Assuming the knee holds up, he and physically imposing junior Andre Wells will likely lead the way for the ground game.
And his style stands out visually, with the smaller body coming downhill with surprising force.
“He’s a really tough kid when he runs,” third-year starting left tackle Shawn Wilson said. “He’ll keep going no matter what, and it’s pretty awesome to watch.”
The team is retaining much of its offense from last year, with former Southside coach Mike Paul serving as a bridge and running the show. It should stay a similar style of spread after a year when the team found ways to simply run over foes in its wins.
In some ways, Nevings has waited his turn. The Bearcats had primary ball carriers two of the past three years, and shared the load the other season. He should finally get a crack at serious carries, but even he admits, it will have to fold into the larger whole.
But the leader Morris remembered from years before always seems to do what’s asked.
“I need to be able to run,” Nevings said. “Quarterbacks need to be able to throw. Receivers need to be able to catch. We’ve all got big roles in our offense.”