High School Sports

Preps Plus: These playmakers can turn around games in a hurry

Playmakers come in various shapes and sizes, but they have one thing in common – the ability to quickly change a game, on a reception, a running play, on special teams or on defense.

The idea, coaches agree, is simple: get the ball to a game-breaker any way possible.

“It’s the big plays that really make the difference in this game,” Folsom co-coach Troy Taylor said. “It’s hard to drive the football 5, 6, 7 yards a pop on the ground all the time. You need an explosive play. At the end of the game, it’s the players, not the plays, that win.

“It’s not too hard. If we’re coaching the old Chicago Bulls, you don’t need to know a lot about basketball to know you get the ball to Michael Jordan in the end.”

Top-ranked Folsom doesn’t wait until the end of a game, however.

On the opening play against Pleasant Grove on Friday, quarterback Jake Browning passed to wide receiver Cole Thompson on a “go” route and it went for an 80-yard touchdown. On the Bulldogs’ next possession, the 6-foot, 190-pound Thompson took a pass from Browning on a short inside route and went 63 yards for a score. Thompson had six catches for 279 yards and four touchdowns as Folsom scored 56 first-half points and won 56-6. His 11 touchdowns lead the state.

It’s a theme playing out in stadiums across the region.

After No. 11 Rio Linda gave up a touchdown to Cosumnes Oaks with 30 seconds to go Friday, the Knights went with a wheel-route short pass to running back Marcel Brown, who bolted 70 yards to the end zone for a stunning 38-35 victory. Clearly, Brown isn’t just a running threat.

“Marcel is strong, tough, physical, fast, and when the game is on the line, you’re glad he’s on your team,” Rio Linda coach Justin Reber said.

On Saturday in Loomis, Del Oro coach Casey Taylor challenged his playmaker to beat the defense and lead the No. 7 Golden Eagles to their first victory. Receiver Trey Udoffia scored on 66- and 47-yard passes from Logan Hurst and made a late 55-yard interception return for a touchdown in a 22-15 victory over state-ranked Vista Murrieta.

“Trey has that ability to make a huge play anytime,” Taylor said. “He’s fast, and his athleticism is off the charts, a true gamer, so you use him.”

Udoffia, a 6-3 junior, speaks for all game-breakers when he talks about his role.

“It feels good to be a playmaker because you want to help your team any way you can,” Udoffia said. “You work so hard to be that player, to be in that position, and when you get the ball, you just think of the end zone. You make every chance count, get that ball and go.”

The key to being a playmaker, coaches say, is for the players to carry out the role in practice, to lead by example.

“The real-deal playmakers don’t just make it happen on Friday nights. They make plays Monday through Thursday in practice as well,” said Eric Cavaliere, coach of No. 3 Oak Ridge, using running back Drew Lackowski as an example. “They work for it during the week.”

Some playmakers go from grunts to leading roles.

Spencer Sheff, a blocking back for Elk Grove his sophomore and junior years, has emerged as a playmaker. The 5-11, 205-pound fullback had two rushing touchdowns and a safety from his linebacking spot in No. 2 Elk Grove’s 29-7 victory over Lincoln of Stockton on Friday.

“Sheff makes the coach look good because of what he can do,” Elk Grove coach Chris Nixon said. “Tremendous burst of speed, and he’d just as soon explode through a guy than run around him in the open field.”

Elk Grove has another playmaker in 5-9, 180-pound burner Eltoro Allen, the team’s fastest player. He has touchdowns on two kick returns of 70 or more yards.

“Eltoro makes game planning fun, knowing he can turn any routine play into six points,” Nixon said. “He constantly makes me wonder if I’ve gotten him the ball enough. I don’t know how you game plan against him in space. He’s a blur in the open field.”

Some come from a family of playmakers. Monterey Trail had brothers Jay and Trey Flury come through the program, and now it’s Andre Flury’s turn. Though just 5-6 and 140 pounds , the receiver is quick and elusive in making plays on receptions and kickoff and punt returns for the No. 12 Mustangs.

“Great family, all into football and making big plays,” Monterey Trail coach T.J. Ewing said. “We love them.”

Big plays aren’t limited to offense. Lonny Powell, a 6-foot, 210-pound linebacker for No. 8 Sacramento, had four sacks against Vista del Lago in a 31-25 victory Friday (he also scored on a 65-yard run). Dragons coach Paul Doherty said Powell’s game is “sheer ferocity and tenacity with an incredible motor to fly to the ball.”

Malcolm Thomas’ penchant for big plays has propelled No. 14 Woodcreek to its first 3-0 start. He has returned two interceptions for touchdowns and has four receiving touchdowns as a 6-1, 190-pound deep threat.

“As a playmaker,” Thomas said, “you just want to use your instincts and go with feel. Always looking to do something.”

Said Woodcreek coach Jason Stowers: “Get him the ball. Screens, deep ball, any way. Just friggin’ get it to him! When you have a once-in-a-lifetime player, you use him.”

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