CALEDONIA — In 2014, a game of word association involving the Caledonia High School football team was easy.
Workhorse: Brandon Henry. Ground game: Brandon Henry. Game-changer: Brandon Henry.
Behind Henry, who rushed for 1,853 yards and 26 touchdowns, Caledonia won six games and qualified for the postseason for the first time since 2005.
It’s only one game into the 2015 season, but Zion Ford is making a case to be the new word of choice for the Confederates. The 6-foot-1, 170-pound junior running back did so in style Friday night, rushing for 131 yards and three touchdowns to help Caledonia defeat Shannon 24-19 in the season opener for both teams.
The victory was impressive in that it came on the road and that Caledonia was able to adjust and run the ball as much as it did on a rain-soaked field. When you consider the victory against the Class 4A Red Raiders is the Confederates’ first in a season opener against a team in that high of a classification dating back through at least 1994, then it’s easy to see how much Ford’s contributions meant to his team.
“I like getting the ball,” Ford said. “I like trying to help the team out. I don’t have a problem with getting the ball.”
A year ago, Ford had 21 carries, 69 yards, and one touchdown in eight games. He also had 16 catches for 124 yards and a touchdown. It was safe to say, though, that Henry was the Confederates’ workhorse. Caledonia’s second option typically was sophomore quarterback Spencer Unruh, who emerged as a starter capable of making timely plays.
This season, Caledonia coach Andy Crotwell figured to utilize Unruh a little more in an attack that relied more on the passing game. A week’s worth of rain soaked that strategy for the season opener, but Ford showed he was adept at changing gears and performing in any terrain.
On Monday, Ford also displayed a knack for thinking on his feet when asked to play word association. When asked to give the first word that came to mind in response to workhorse, Ford said, “Me.”
Crotwell said he has the confidence Ford can be that kind of player this season.
“I have a lot of confidence in Zion,” Crotwell said. “He didn’t carry the ball a whole lot last year, but he had some big-time plays for us last year. He caught the first touchdown against New Hope last year. … I felt very confident he could handle the workload we gave him, whether it was carrying it 30 times like he did the other night or whether it is running the ball 15 times and catching seven or eight balls and doing whatever his team asks him to do. I have a lot of confidence in him — and a lot of the other guys — that he will be able to do what we ask him to do in pressure situations.”
Ford also likes the challenge of helping his team build on last season. He said the 2015 team has enough talented players that he feels he doesn’t have to shoulder a huge workload. He also said the Confederates can rely on a solid offensive line of right tackle Stone Bustin, right guard Carrlon Byrd, center Logan Canery, left guard Floyd Pickens and Eli Seabrooks, and left tackle Ragan Robinson that helped pave the way for his success on the ground.
“At first, it was hard (running on the wet field), but in the second and third quarters I tried to adapt to it,” Ford said. “I couldn’t really cut like I wanted to, so I just picked a shoulder and lowered my shoulder and tried to get some yardage.”
Ford said the 34-carry, 131-yard effort was a career high at the high school level. He hopes he can continue to be a dependable option out of the backfield for a Caledonia team that keeps finding ways to battle back from deficits.
“I will work hard to make sure when I get the ball I will do something good with it so they will keep depending on me,” Ford said. “I don’t want to let anybody down.”
With the home opener set for Friday against Mooreville, Crotwell hopes to get a similar effort on a drier field. He cautioned his players Monday that last week was over and that they had to turn their attention to a new week because there is plenty of hard work left to do to prepare for a Class 4A, Region 4 slate that features games against reigning state champion Noxubee County, Louisville, and Kosciusko, just to name three.
“From a mind-set perspective, they seemed to have picked up right where we left off last year, where we are going to play hard regardless of the circumstance or situation,” Crotwell said. “Our guys are going to compete and fight like crazy, and they’re going to adapt to the circumstances.”
NOTE: Senior linebacker Chace Pennington’s name was incorrect in a roundup of games that appeared in Sunday’s paper.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.