Whether running through plays in practice on a rainy Tuesday afternoon or running through opposing defenses on Friday nights, Hickman running back Brandon Kendrick never takes a down off.
On Saturday, Kendrick and Hickman (7-3) will travel to O’Fallon to play the Fort Zumwalt West Jaguars (4-6) in the quarterfinals of the state playoffs at 1:30 p.m.
Kendrick said the week of practice before the game would determine the success he will enjoy against the Jaguars.
“I think it comes down to having a great week of practice,” Kendrick said. “The game reflects practice.”
Kendrick, a junior running back, leads the team in rushing with 814 yards and 10 touchdowns. Kendrick credits his determination and hard work in practice for his recent success.
“I’ve worked real hard in practice, and I think that is why I’ve improved,” Kendrick said.
Kendrick has dominated opponents in district play in the previous three games. In victories against Springfield Kickapoo, Rock Bridge and Jefferson City, Kendrick has scored five touchdowns and rushed for 389 yards.
“For Brandon, the more reps he’s gotten, the better he’s gotten,” Hickman coach Gregg Nesbitt said. “He’s gotten better in terms of his vision, setting up blocks and making decisions on the run with no hesitation.”
Teammates recognize the hard work Kendrick has put in during practices.
“He’s incredible, and he’s getting what he deserves,” tight end Scottie Guthrie said. “He’s worked his tail off. He hits those holes going full speed and he makes his cuts going full speed.”
Early in the season, Kendrick split time with senior running back Brandon Ferling. After Kendrick’s 117-yard, two-touchdown performance against Oak Park on Sept. 26, Kendrick cemented himself as the Kewpies’ feature back.
“I’ve worked really hard in practice to become the No. 1 running back,” Kendrick said. “I just continue to try to do my best every day.”
Guthrie said the Kewpies, who jumped to fourth in the Class 6 rankings Tuesday, were lacking a running threat early in the season, but with Kendrick racking up 100-yard games, Guthrie said he believes the improved running game has allowed the Kewpies to throw the ball more successfully.
“Coaches realized it was important for us to have a run threat,” Guthrie said. “We need to be able to pound him away and he’s a tough little guy that can take the ball. We’ve found that we can pound it, pound it, pound it and we throw the ball and the defense loosens up.
“He’s such a great athlete that he can break open for big yardage and when he breaks three or four of them the yards start to pile up.”
Against Rock Bridge on Oct. 31, Nesbitt and the Kewpies hoped to establish the running game to keep the Bruins’ potent offense off the field. Hickman’s strategy paid off with a 30-14 victory. Hickman controlled the ball with its running game, running 79 plays to Rock Bridge’s 39. Kendrick led the running attack with 146 yards, including two touchdowns.
“I think running the ball eats away at a team and wears it out,” Kendrick said. “Then you can mix in the passes.”
Playing for the district championship Nov. 7 against Jefferson City, Kendrick didn’t waste time establishing the Kewpies’ running game, rushing for a 52-yard touchdown on the first possession. Kendrick rushed for 156 yards in the first half and finished with 175 yards and three touchdowns.
Nesbitt said Kendrick is a refreshing player to coach because of his demeanor on the field.
“I knew that he was going to be a solid back, but he’s probably exceeded all of our expectations,” Nesbitt said. “Probably the thing I like most about him … sometimes on a football team running backs and quarterbacks can be a prima donna or a temperamental player that is difficult to coach. But both Brandon and Blake (Tekotte, the quarterback) are consummate team players.
“They are very even keel, they are not in it for their own individual accomplishments or statistics or scholarships. They do it because they like competing with their teammates and buddies.”