Football: Tukee Bowl MP vs. DV

Running back Anthony Stephens #1 of Mountain Pointe is hit out of bounds during the first half of the 20th annual Tukee Bowl high school football game between Desert Vista and Mountain Pointe at Mountain Pointe High School on Friday, September 30, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona.

A characteristic of a seasoned running back is patience, waiting for a play to develop before turning up field.

Anthony Stephens has shown signs of being that type of runner, but he admittedly didn’t have it in him in Mountain Pointe’s third game of the year.

It was his first after being suspended for disciplinary reasons the first two games, meaning every carry was like three carries in his mind as he tried to make up for his mistake.

“I was anxious and I just wanted to go,” he said this week. “I wanted to make up for that lost time. I was the starting running back and then just like that I wasn’t. I had to calm down and see things differently.”

He sees things differently not only with the ball in his hands, but also what it truly meant to be a good teammate.

Missing that time because of something he did in the offseason cost him a more prominent role to start the year and vital time on the field.

More telling was the fact that he put himself before the team.

“I learned a lot,” Stephens said. “When you are in it for the team, it comes with a lot of sacrifices and commitments. I should have known it all along but that mistake really showed me what it means to be a teammate.”

The guy who took over his starting spot, junior Gary Bragg, tore his right anterior cruciate ligament two weeks ago in the win over Pinnacle.

Bragg was on his way to an all-state type of season with 891 yards and 11 touchdowns in five games, but now he is in rehab mode.

“All I can do is work hard and come back stronger,” Bragg said from the sidelines of the Ahwautkee Bowl.

It means Stephens and others have a chance to become the main back in the Pride’s dominant running game, which averages 327.5 yards a game entering Friday’s game at Highland (2-4).

The one thing that separates the 5-foot-10, 168-pound Stephens is that fact he only plays offense while Antwaun Woodberry (cornerback), Rashie Hodge (linebacker) and Delano Salgado (cornerback) have started on defense.

“We are going to mix it up, but we have to limit some of these guys on offense because they are so important on defense,” Pride coach Norris Vaughan said. “Woodberry can be special, but he is kind still learning back there. Hodge could be the guy, but we don’t want to wear him down too much.”

With the way the offensive line is playing, and the versatility it has shown in recent weeks, whoever lines up in the backfield is going to find holes to their liking.

“We are going to hold this position down,” Woodberry said on Friday. “We will pick (Bragg) up. He was going off, and now we have to step up.”

Senior Eddie Rivas has played every position depending on the opponent, Mason Honne moved from tackle to center,

Justice Hudson went from center to left guard and only right guard Rudy Rauls has played the same position, Sophomore Alex Vogel has found his way into the lineup at left tackle as Matthew Pola-Mao and Shomari Hayes started to concentrate on defense only.

“If we do our job it doesn’t matter who is back there,” Honne said. “They’re all good, and we have been creating some holes. We’ve made some changes and we’ve all adjusted to it.”

It’s been a winning combination, but Vaughan said the passing game may be counted on more without Bragg, whom he called the best running back in the state.

“It’s not going to change much,” he said. “It hurts you, but these guys are going to get better. Going forward though we are probably going to throw the ball more.”

However it shakes out the rest of the season, Stephens, who is the second leading rusher with 43 carries for 316 yards and three touchdowns, is ready to make the most of his opportunity.

Patiently.

“If I see it I’ll take it, but sometimes you have to wait it out,” he said. “You have let things develop and then turn it up. A good back can do both and I think we all have it covered.”

– Contact Jason Skoda at 480-898-7915 or jskoda@ahwatukee.com. Follow him on Twitter @JasonPSkoda.

– Check us out and like the Ahwatukee Foothills News on Facebook and follow @AhwatukeeFN on Twitter.

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