Steven Baca arrived at Winters Mill High School on Wednesday afternoon for 7-on-7 competition with a plenty to be excited about.
He's entered the summer scrimmages as the presumed No. 1 running back for South Carroll this coming fall, and has been tasked with filling the void of Chris Gavin, departed teammate and 2,000-yard rusher.
With the added pressure of getting the Cavaliers back to county and region championship form, Baca is itching to get his pads on in about seven weeks. It's his chance to show that he can be just as dynamic coming out of the backfield.
He also knows the time is right for South Carroll build off last year's team success.
"Yeah, I'm definitely looking forward to what we have as a team, and also what I could possibly accomplish as an individual," Baca said. "We're looking like we're going to be a really solid team, so that's pretty exciting."
With just 68 attempts as a rusher last year, Baca racked up an impressive 433 yards. His 6.4 yards per carry ranked him second on the team, behind Gavin, as did his 10 touchdowns as a running back. He added a score as a receiver, where he caught five passes for 70 yards.
Those numbers may have been overshadowed by his Times Football Player of the Year teammate, who broke a 16-year-old mark and became the first Carroll County runner to eclipse that elusive 2,000-yard milestone. But, instead of focusing on the glory, Baca used the experience to his advantage.
"I think I learned a lot of just the instinctual running back things — where to cut, reading the linemen, everything like that," he said. "He helped me with a lot of technique and things like that."
South Carroll coach Steve Luette watched Gavin lead the program to the Class 2A state semifinals against eventual champion Douglass. That loss motivated his squad, the coach said, and he expects Baca to take on a similar role in getting the group back to that level.
"Steven ran behind Chris all last year. He knows what it takes," Luette said. "I think he showed last year that he's going to be able to step in, and I don't think we're going to lose a beat."
Luette described Baca as a fast back, though his style of running differs from Gavin, who preferred to bump a play to the outside and use his speed to gobble up yards.
Though their body types and sizes are similar, Baca said he likes to play to contact, rushing behind South Carroll's mammoth and experienced offensive line to earn his yards in the trenches. That line features four of the five big men up front from last year's squad, including University of Maryland commit Brian Plummer — a 6-foot-7 tackle entering his senior season for the Cavaliers.
The Cavaliers also plan to add more passing to their offensive attack next year, forcing defenses to prepare for players other than Baca. That could free up the rising senior on the field.
While South Carroll has the pieces in place to repeat as county champions, the team has more on its mind heading into the fall.
"We've got a pretty experienced team coming back, and I think they know the county title is one thing, but we have goals to try and get outside the county and try to get to that last game of the season," Luette said. "I think that's what they're focused on."
Losing Gavin may not be the most ideal situation for a team that was one game away from a state championship berth. But, with Baca filling the void, the coach is excited about what could be in store.
After running behind Gavin for that extraordinary season, Baca isn't shy when he says he wants to know what it's like to have the same success. But, like Gavin, staying humble and putting the team first are his top priorities.
"I mean, I'm not going to lie if I said I didn't have on my goals what Chris set as his rushing record," he said with a smile. "Overall, I just want to be a leader, and really just help guide this team to Game 14."
NOTE: South Carroll defensive back and wide receiver Silas Kelly announced via Twitter that he received an offer to the University of Maryland. "Blessed to have just received my 3rd offer from my home state, The University of Maryland #goterps," he tweeted from his account, @sila_SK_elly. He followed that tweet up with a confirmation that he was committing to the school.
As a junior, Kelly finished fourth in tackles for the Cavaliers with 59. He led the team with four interceptions, and was a first-team all-county selection on defense.