Glenelg senior running back James McKenney patiently waited for his turn in the offensive spotlight as a featured back, serving as Paul Brosenne's understudy for the past two seasons.
Now with Brosenne (1,442 yards, 14 touchdowns) graduated, it is McKenney's time to star, and the 6-foot-3, 195-pound Gladiators tailback is making the most of his chance.
McKenney is a major reason Class 2A Glenelg (5-2, 2-2) has state playoff hopes, leading the county in rushing with 830 yards on 143 carries with seven touchdowns.
"Paul Brosenne did an unbelievable job for us last year, and once he graduated I told James the tailback job was his to lose," Glenelg coach Ed Ashwell said.
McKenney, who rushed for 321 yards last year, has kept a firm grasp on the starting backfield role this season with his consistent running.
In five of Glenelg's seven games, he has surpassed 100 yards rushing, with only Wilde Lake (72 yards) and Howard (91 yards) holding McKenney below 100. His 166 rushing yards against Oakland Mills is his career best.
"James really got his start in the backfield as a sophomore when Paul broke his foot and missed a few games," Ashwell said.
"We kind of threw James into the fire because he really wasn't ready for that role of carrying the load, but he showed us enough to keep him as a running back rather than a wide receiver."
McKenney's above-average height for a high school tailback has attracted as much attention as his rushing statistics.
"A lot of people have said I'm too tall to be a running back," said McKenney, who started his varsity career as a wide receiver, but always harbored hope of playing in the backfield where he starred as a freshman on the junior varsity.
"People say I don't look like a running back. But my height makes me harder to tackle. The only negative is that I'm much easier for the linebackers to see over the line of scrimmage."
McKenney's height also has cost him a few rushing yards as he still learns the running fundamentals.
"I still need to learn to keep my feet up when I run up the middle because I have a tendency to trip over down linemen and fall to my knees," he said. "I'm not high-stepping enough for somebody as tall as I am."
It is McKenney's size, however, that has college programs such as Maryland keeping close tabs on his athletic progress.
"One college told me they would love to have a feature back my size in their backfield because most of their running backs are 5 feet-something," McKenney said.
Ashwell said McKenney still has not achieved the necessary foot speed for a Division I halfback, but the coach has little doubt his tailback will improve once he learns to run up the middle with more consistency and his body fills out even more.
McKenney has worked during the past two off-seasons to improve his speed by using the Glenelg track team's training techniques.
"As a sophomore, my speed was poor, something like 4.9 seconds in the 40-yard --," McKenney said. "Now, by doing lots of short-sprint reps to work on my burst of speed, I have got my time down to a 4.6 or 4.7."
While Brosenne was a traditional north-south power back for Glenelg's 8-3 state playoff team a year ago, McKenney's slashing style has been to take an east-west route on the way to the end zone.
McKenney's biggest offensive booster may be Glenelg junior quarterback Sean Lookingbill.
"James is awesome and really helps keep opposing defenses honest, especially when we fake to him since everybody on defense keys in on his moves," Lookingbill said. "He gives our offense the balance we need to get back to the playoffs."