Michael Ledbetter enjoys playing offense more than he does playing defense.
For someone who spent a majority of the 2013 season playing defense, that statement reveals just how much the Heritage Academy junior is relishing his chance to play a key role in the backfield this season.
As part of a group of playmakers that includes Mattox Heredia, Cayden Upton, Hunter Sykes, Walker Brown, Dylan Barker, and Tyler Anderson, Ledbetter has played a key role in the Patriots’ 2-1 start. Last week, Ledbetter rushed for 145 yards and scored two touchdowns in a 44-14 victory against Winston Academy.
Heritage Academy will face a tougher challenge at 7 p.m. Friday when it takes on perennial state champion Jackson Academy.
For Ledbetter, the game will provide an opportunity to showcase his quickness and his big-play capabilities against one of the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools’ best programs.
“Offensively, filling into those shoes was a little easier than coming in as a sophomore on the varsity team and having to do that on defense,” said Ledbetter, who also plays in the secondary. “Friday night was one of the most fun nights I have had since my ninth-grade year on junior varsity.”
Ledbetter showcased his versatility against Winston Academy, scoring on runs of 42 and 71 yards. He also kicked a 23-yard field goal and added four extra points. Combine that with a full night on defense as one of several Patriots who goes both ways and it was a busy — yet fulfilling — evening for Ledbetter. He said last week’s game stirred memories of the most fun game he has played in football, a game against Caledonia Middle School when he had three touchdowns and a two-point conversion. After spending most of last season as a secondary option on offense, Ledbetter knew entering the Winston Academy game he had a chance to impact the outcome.
“We worked on speed during the week and trying to get sweeps to the outside and trying to get more outside looks,” Ledbetter said. “That is more up my alley because whenever I get my feet under me and have vision, there is more I can do.”
Heritage Academy coach Barrett Donahoe said Ledbetter’s vision and patience as a running back has improved. He said he works well with Upton, who is more of a power back/fullback, and Heredia.
“It’s about vision for him because he does have the speed,” Donahoe said. “He has the footwork and the ability to jump cut and to make people miss and to change direction and get positive yards. In our scheme, that is really big.”
Ledbetter praised the effort of his offensive line. He said that group has been opening holes for him and his teammates, so it has been crucial for him to pay attention watching film so he knows where the gaps and seams will be up front so he can instinctively hit them. He feels he was able to do that against Winston Academy to help Heritage Academy break big plays.
“Whenever you have big plays like that, it wears the defense down,” Ledbetter said. “You can tell once big plays happen their heads drop a little bit, and every time it happens after that they drop a little bit more. That is a really big part of our offense.”
Ledbetter hopes his latest performance will give him confidence and provide motivation to know he can do even better. Knowing he will have to see so much action each week, Ledbetter said the offensive production against Winston Academy will force him to push harder in conditioning and to “raise the bar” for what he expects from himself.
“As long as he is running with his head up and his eyes down field and he can anticipate movements of the linebackers and the defensive backs as he moves, he is going to be OK, and he will be able to continue to do that throughout the year,” Donahoe said. “We will see a real fast defense this week, so it will be a little different for him, but, at the same time, it is all about getting positive yards and getting back up and into the huddle and doing it all over again.”
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Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.