COLUMBIA — Nash Sutherlin's dream is to run under the bright lights of an NFL stadium, evading tackles like Hall of Fame NFL running back Barry Sanders.
"I try to be like him," the senior Muriel Williams Battle High School running back said. "He was elusive, everyone thought he'd be down but he'd keep on running."
Being a running back in the NFL isn't his only lofty aspiration heading into this season, which starts Aug. 22 against Jackson High School.
His dream college is Missouri. A team goal for this season is making it to the state title game. His individual goal is to make first team all-state.
"I'm really excited for senior year," Sutherlin said. "But I'm kind of nervous because this is my last year and I can't have a re-do."
Sutherlin said he needs to have a big senior year to help lead Battle's offense and impress colleges, like one of the nine schools that are looking at him, including Missouri State University and Iowa State.
But he said these worries won't get in the way of enjoying his final year with his teammates, whom he calls his brothers.
In between drills at the Battle practice Tuesday, Sutherlin stood on the sideline with his helmet on his forehead and a smile on his face, laughing and telling jokes with his friends.
Columbia is all Sutherlin knows.
He's lived here his whole life and built many relationships on and off the field, especially with fellow senior Battle running back Marshall Willingham, who he met in sixth grade.
Because he's played football in the area since third grade, Sutherlin has become a household name in the community, playing in front of people he's known his entire life, from friends' parents to his family.
Although he will miss playing in front of his hometown, there is still business to take care of this year, improving on last season's 5-4 record in the team's inaugural football season.
"To be 5-4 in year-one for us was pretty good," Battle head coach Justin Conyers said. "We were up and down in our schedule as far as who we were playing week in and week out. A lot of people didn't expect a lot from us in the community, but we had high expectations for ourselves."
Conyers said the team could have finished off the year in better fashion — it lost the last three games of the season — but it came down to the team being under-sized and inexperienced, among other things.
"The last thing we said after our loss to Troy (in the final game of the season) was, 'they were just bigger and stronger than us,'" Conyers said. "I asked the kids to make a dedication to the weight room for the next eight months so we wouldn't have to be in the same place again. They made that vow to the team and they did. We are way bigger and way stronger and way faster and I feel we are ready for a large class schedule this year."
Having 35 seniors for this season will help as well.
Conyers said the team developed a leadership council, consisting of six seniors and two players from each other grade.
Sutherlin will be one of the seniors on the council because of his unique approach to being a leader, Conyers said.
"The team just feeds off his play," Conyers said. "He goes out there and doesn't talk, he just does his job. And he not only does his job, but he does it to the highest standard, he really holds himself accountable for everything and his play really speaks to his character."
Supervising editor is Greg Bowers.