Despite spending a year away from football, Tyrice Rock of Century High School seemingly hasn't missed a beat, and is having a season that most players only dream about.
The senior Knight leads Carroll County in rushing attempts and yardage, and his 20 touchdowns far outdistance the current runner-up, Westminster wide receiver Garrett Bean. He has exceeded the 100-yard rushing mark in six of Century's seven games, and has gone for more than 200 yards four times.
Even with a tough performance Friday against Westminster, Rock still has a chance to break the all-time Carroll records for rushing yardage and touchdowns.
Those are impressive milestones for any player, but especially for one with limited offensive experience.
In his sophomore year, Rock began his varsity career as a defensive back. In the 2010 season finale, he rushed for more than 200 yards in a victory over Francis Scott Key, and it seemed that he might start his junior campaign in the offensive backfield.
But there was no junior season for Rock. The Sykesville resident was academically ineligible to play for the Knights last fall, and football would have to wait.
During his junior year, Rock worked hard to improve his grades. He also took up rugby and enrolled in a dance class at Maryland Dance Energy in Eldersburg — two activities that would make him a better football player a year later.
"Dance really helped with my footwork, and taught me to take more precise steps when I'm running with the ball," Rock said.
"I knew that I had to come back fully focused," he said. "I needed to have my head on straight with both academics and football."
While he was away from the gridiron, Rock learned the value of applying himself in the classroom.
"Academically, things are better for me," he said. "I was always a person who did the bare minimum (in school), and looking back now I shouldn't have done that."
After a year, Rock showed progress in the classroom, and Century head coach Jim Holzman welcomed him back.
"I wasn't sure what to expect from him this year," Holzman said. "I thought Tyrice would help us, but not as much as he has."
But no one expected this kind of production from a player who hadn't suited up since November 2010. Midway through the first quarter of Century's recent 28-25 victory over Manchester Valley, Rock broke the Century single-season rushing record previously set by Cory Anderlik in 2008.
Rock, who gained 141 yards on a career-high 34 carries against the Mavericks, had rushed for 1,329 yards in seven games going into this weekend.
He enters Century's final contests with an excellent shot to break the county rushing record of 1,819 yards, set by Liberty's Calvin Stacy in 1998.
His 20 touchdowns also put Rock in position to set a new county single-season scoring record.
"I never expected to break any records," said Rock, who also played lacrosse for the Knights. "I just wanted to play well enough to get looks from colleges. My dad (Troy Rock) played sports in high school and broke records, and I wanted to be like him. He always said that I could do it, but I didn't think I could. He told me that the word 'can't' should not be in my vocabulary."
Today, Holzman believes that Rock's presence is invaluable to the Knights.
"He's our go-to guy," Holzman said. "He can run in between the tackles, and he can run outside. Tyrice can run with power and run with speed, and he is patient. He has all the good things you want in a running back. Plus, he's a good kid and he's very coachable, which goes a long way."