Put Lake Braddock’s Aaron Hollins on your high school football fantasy team.
The senior has established himself as one of the top offensive threats in the Northern Region thanks to his performance the last two weeks as the Bruins’ top running back. Not surprisingly, they’ve been big Patriot District wins for Lake Braddock.
Hollins, who began the year as a wide receiver and utility player, stepped into the featured running back role because coach Jim Poythress knew he needed to get the 5-8, 170-pound speedster the ball more often.
“He’s a difference-maker in terms of raw speed and athleticism,” said Poythress, whose Bruins moved to 4-0 in the district (4-2 overall) with a 36-21 win last Friday at South County. “Once he gets into space, he’s very dangerous.”
Hollins picked up 20 of his 32 carries this season and gained 150 yards against the Stallions, who dropped to 1-5 with the loss. He has 275 rushing yards the last two weeks after making his debut at the position in a 21-7 win over T.C. Williams on Sept. 28.
“I’ve been switched around a lot. They want me to get the ball, so they put me at running back,” said Hollins, who also has 15 catches for 211 yards and three touchdowns. “I can run fast, so the coaches are smart enough to put me where I can get the ball anytime.”
Hollins showed his good hands on more than one occasion on Friday, catching swing passes out of the backfield from Caleb Henderson, and even going up to grab a 15-yard touch pass over the middle for the game’s key score that made it 27-21 late in the third quarter after South County tied the game with a long drive after halftime. Henderson then hit Austin Wolfe with a two-point conversion pass that effectively put the game out of reach.
Wolfe was Henderson’s top target, making eight grabs for 138 yards and a touchdown to go along with his two-pointer. Henderson had a hand in all of the Bruins’ scores, bulling in from seven and eight yards, and hitting Yet Fekadu on another scoring pass just before halftime that gave Lake Braddock a 21-14 lead.
While Henderson lit up the Northern Region last year with his arm, he’s been making an impact running as of late. He may not have the speed and elusiveness of past Lake Braddock quarterbacks, but he’s compiled 273 yards and has six rushing touchdowns this year.
“I’ve always been able to run a little bit,” said Henderson, who went 22 for 34 for 256 yards passing. “But now that I’m 220 pounds and brought my speed up, I think it makes me a better runner, especially if we need a couple inches or a yard or two.”
The Bruins featured a handful of read option plays where Henderson kept the ball himself, even if the temptation to let Hollins carry the load is growing, based on his production the last two weeks.
“We’re going to ride that bus as long as we can,” said Poythress.
And Hollins should expect to be ridden tonight when the Bruins return home to host cross-town rival Robinson in their homecoming game. Even though it’s not a district contest, the recent games between the two schools have been legendary, often coming down to a late touchdown or two-point conversion.
The Rams are led by junior running back Joe Wilson, who has gained nearly 1,200 yards in the last four games alone as his team went 3-1 since two early-season losses.
“We’re going to really have to prepare defensively in order to stop Wilson and that offensive line,” said Poythress, whose Bruins have lost three straight regular-season games to the Rams, but won a pair of playoff games against their rivals in 2009 and 2010. Lake Braddock should be strengthened up front by the return of Romario Peart, who missed a couple of games earlier this season with an injury, but worked himself back into game shape with two quarters of action against South County.
If the Bruins can capitalize on the energy from their homecoming-night crowd, a win over the Rams should put them in good shape for the rest of the season, with three district games to go and just one against a team with a winning record (West Springfield, 5-1).
“I think we’ll have the momentum to go undefeated the rest of the way and have a high seed for the playoffs,” said Henderson.
South County used a midyear run that turned into a long winning streak that only ended with a AAA Division 5 state championship loss to Phoebus last season. This year, injuries, inexperience and the lack of a scoring defense have added up to a 1-5 record. Evidence of the bad luck came just last week when the Stallions’ second-leading rusher, LeVaughn Davis, woke up with a sore foot the day before their game against South County. Coach Gerry Pannoni said his player was on crutches and will seek an MRI. Playoffs, while unlikely at this point, aren’t yet out of the picture.
“When we win four in a row, and go 5-5, we’re going to be in the middle of the pack. As far as the seeding, it will come down to power points,” Pannoni said.