ROWLAND — Andrew Hill saw the defensive back shielded by his blocker and made his move.
Approaching the line of scrimmage, the senior tailback knew a split-second window was all he needed to take it the distance.
“They just do their job and let us run behind them,” Hill said, referencing lumbering South Robeson tackles Adam Miller and Brayon Floyd. “They put in the work to help us get better and they’ve made my job easy.”
If this were the big leagues, Juan Ellerbe and Hill, two Purnell Swett transfers who have combined for 1,182 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns, would owe each of their starting offensive linemen a steak dinner for the season they’ve had through five games.
The combination of three juniors and two returning senior starters at left guard and right tackle has provided the Mustangs with a wall of muscle up front absent during last year’s 3-8 campaign, paving the way for the Three Rivers Conference’s version of thunder and lightning.
Ellerbe packs the punch and Hill’s the breakaway threat, showcasing his speed in gaps and on the outside edge last week in a win over Red Springs. After missing the season opener and being limited Week 2 with a hamstring pull, all but 29 of Hill’s area-leading 718 yards on the ground have come in the last three games.
Seven of his eight touchdowns have covered at least 40 yards creating quite the horror-highlight film for opposing coaches.
“Andrew can make bad blocking look good sometimes,” South Robeson coach Stephen Roberson said. “All he needs is a crease.”
Ellerbe and Hill, who split time in certain packages in defensive coordinator Brett Morton’s secondary, are still mastering Roberson’s run-heavy approach when the Mustangs have the football. It’s not your typical zone-read shotgun scheme, but instead a between-the-tackle approach with a lead blocker crushing the approaching linebacker.
Teammates up front have made for an easy transition.
“Juan and Peanut (Hill) have caught on to it pretty quickly,” Floyd said. “Some of our line is returning players from last year, so we’re starting to click and help them better understand what to do on offense. It’s kind of cool because we can holler out plays all we want and the defense knows what we’re about to run. But like coach says, it’s always about execution. If you execute, you can run it.”
Outside of four lost fumbles on 106 combined attempts, execution hasn’t been a problem for South Robeson’s two-headed monster that’s the area’s best at punching it in the end zone from inside the 20. Ellerbe’s the goal line option — 20 pounds heavier than Hill — who welcomes collisions.
Each ballcarrier delivers a different style, but the unselfish relationship that’s blossomed between the pair is what has made South Robeson’s ground game so prolific. Heading into Friday’s game at East Columbus, the Mustangs (4-1, 1-0) are averaging nearly 300 yards rushing per contest.
“They like running and blocking for one another,” Roberson said. “It’s a commitment to each other. They don’t care. One play Andrew will be the deep guy and the next Juan will be the deep guy. We really don’t switch them in and out if we’re in the (I-Formation).”
Sporting a size 18 shoe to compliment his 6-foot-5, 310-pound frame, Miller’s a new addition in the huddle and the kind of kid that doesn’t come around too often says Roberson. Paired on the left side of the line with center Corbin Hunt and Tim Bowens, Miller gives South Robeson stability in short-yardage situations and a power source for its two standout backs.
“Me and my teammates are just doing the best we can blocking for them,” Miller said. “They’re so fast and they have great footwork.”
Roberson wasn’t sure what to expect from his unproven line in early August when the Mustangs were pushed around in the Two Rivers Jamboree by Westover then defeated in the season opener at West Bladen. A season of high expectations would detonate quickly if the cobwebs weren’t cleared during a three-day span prior to playing Trinity Christian in Rowland after the 0-1 start.
“We’ve come a long way since then,” Roberson said. “I’m pleasantly surprised with how hard the players study to know what to do week in and week out. Half of it is knowing what to do.”
Mustangs won’t overlook Gators
South Robeson rides a four-game winning streak this week into Lake Waccamaw but hasn’t beaten East Columbus (2-3, 0-1) since 2003. Despite the Gators’ early struggles in Chris Haney’s first season, they’re not an opponent the Three Rivers darkhorse will take lightly.
“If we play around, we aren’t going to get anywhere,” Ellerbe said. “No one’s ever won a (conference) championship without working hard.”
Roberson appreciates East Columbus running back Nick McClure, the Gators’ top weapon offensively. McClure’s bigger than most linebackers at 5-10, 235 pounds and could keep the football away from South Robeson’s leading rushers if he gets going downhill.
“The kid’s a stud on film and in person,” Roberson said. “We’re worried about him.”
Reach staff writer Brad Crawford at 910-272-6119 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MrPalmettoSDS.