Mike Morris is as simple and direct as a kick to the shins.
The Rio Linda High School football coach is from the old school, frowning upon the new-era spread formation sets that have swept the country while embracing traditional plays where fullbacks and tailbacks blast off tackle.
And Morris has an arsenal to unleash in running backs Leo Skattebo and Marcel Brown. Together, the tandem that goes by "Thunder and Lightning" make for the region's best 1-2 punch.
Rio Linda's play calling goes something like this: Run Skattebo, the big power back, or Brown, the swift runner?
"It's fun to call plays with those two," Morris said. "Do we want to pound them in the mouth with Leo, or knife them right here with speed with Marcel?"
Ranked No. 7 by The Bee, Rio Linda is 8-1 and the champion of the Capital Valley Conference. The Knights loom as a Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoff favorite because opponents haven't been able to slow Rio Linda's backs.
"I don't understand how a defense can prepare for us, especially the way our line has played," Skattebo said. "We like it that way."
Skattebo, a 5-foot-10, 245-pound senior, has rushed for 731 yards and 11 touchdowns, averaging 5.9 yards a carry. Imagine both hands protecting the ball, his body hunched forward in motion, and you have Skattebo in his element. He also makes 12.4 tackles a game at linebacker.
Brown, a 5-10, 205-pound junior, has raced for 1,202 yards and 16 scores, averaging 10.2 yards a carry. Imagine a flash in the open field while others appear to be in slow motion. Friends call Brown "Crazy 8" to match his moves and jersey number.
Brown has deceptive power and Skattebo deceptive speed. Brown relishes the cutback move, making opponents miss. Skattebo revels in the idea running over the competition.
"When Leo breaks free, he can really go, and he'll chug for 20 yards before he starts to look for someone to hit," Morris said. "He doesn't like to go 70 yards on a play like Marcel. He's happier running someone over. Marcel is just a great tailback, still learning his craft, which is scary. Both are very motivated to leave a mark at our school in many ways."
Morris said Skattebo is "a complete fullback" who can block and is "incredibly smart." Skattebo is a 3.3 GPA student with recruiting interest from UC Davis, which he calls his dream school.
And Skattebo is a contradiction of sorts. He's unfailingly polite away from the playing field. In gear, he's no one's friend.
"I strive to hit people," Skattebo said. "There's something about that that is so fun. I don't like to hurt people, per se, but I do like to inflict pain in this sport. I could say it's something I don't enjoy, hurting others. But I will say it's my job, and I do enjoy my job."
Brown said there's "nothing like a touchdown run." He credits his fullback and offensive line – Hunter Clark, Vaughn Hingano, Danny Perez, Blake Harris, Daniel Chavez and Matthew Morris. Offered a scholarship by Nevada as a sophomore, Brown has picked up a lot of Pacific-12 Conference recruiting interest this season.
"I wouldn't be anywhere without my teammates," Brown said. "And Leo, he's like a brother to me."
Skattebo is close to his father, also named Leo Skattebo. The elder Skattebo was a three-sport star at Rio Linda in the early 1990s. His three interceptions as a defensive back and touchdown reception against El Dorado helped Morris win his first game at Rio Linda in 1992. Morris' first team went 0-10 in 1991. The elder Skattebo was a baseball star at Rio Linda and urged his friends to also play football.
"My dad and I are really close, and he critiques my game and gives me suggestions," Skattebo said. "He's my idol. I can tell he's proud of me. That feels great."
Brown hardly knows his father. He said his teammates are an extended family, and he looks to Morris and the elder Skattebo as father figures. Brown said he has grown close to his mother, Karen, throughout a childhood that wasn't easy. Brown is motivated to do well as a student and an athlete "so I can do better things."
"I never really knew my dad, and the last time I saw him was in the seventh grade," Brown said. "He's missed out. I lived with Leo for a while a few years ago, and that was great for me. What that family did for me, it still means a lot to me."
Morris is an authority figure to Brown, one who sticks to policy. Brown was benched for the season opener at Roseville for failing to complete a mandatory off-campus commitment. Roseville blocked a game-winning field-goal attempt and returned it for a touchdown on the final play. The Knights haven't lost since.
"I understand why I was benched," Brown said. "I was supposed to do some extracurricular stuff away from football, and I didn't do it, and I regret it because I let my team down. We could be undefeated. But I learned from it. I was never mad at coach. Just mad at myself."
One for all
Skattebo and Brown insist they don't care who gets the carries. They just want victories.
"We've talked about it," Skattebo said. "The first thing Marcel does when he scores is thank people for the block. I do the same thing. We're in this together, as a team, like brothers."
Opposing coaches have no answers on how to stall the Knights' running game.
"So we spent the entire week planning on stopping these two," Casa Roble coach Norm Ryan said. "We thought we might make Skattebo work hard on defense and that would wear him out on offense. Worked well. We held him to three touchdowns and he had a hundred tackles or something like that.
"And Marcel is a special player. He only needs a crease and he's gone, and he did that."
In a 35-21 win over Casa Roble on Oct. 25, Skattebo ran for 66 yards and three scores and had 14 tackles, and Brown had 213 yards and two scores.
In last week's 41-3 rout of Oakmont, Skattebo ran for 88 yards on seven carries and provided blocks to help spring Brown, who rushed for 254 yards on just eight carries and five first-half touchdowns.
"Those two are a force to be reckoned with," Oakmont coach Tim Moore said. "Honestly, it's more than just the two backs. They have an outstanding line, a very tough quarterback (Stephen Andrews). It's a perfect group to play old-school power football with, a special team."
Follow The Bee's Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD and on Preps Plus Insiders at sacbee.com/preps.