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Buford's strength is in its numbers
No. 1 Wolves face Elbert County Friday in state quarterfinals
Buford senior running back Andre Johnson tries to break a tackle during the game against Gainesville earlier this year. - photo by Scott Rogers | The Times

Friday's game

state quarterfinals

Elbert County at Buford, 7:30 p.m.

Flowery Branch at Tucker, 7:30 p.m.

Sandy Creek at Gainesville, 7:30 p.m.

All tickets are $10

BUFORD - Last Friday night in Buford's 31-0 win, Wolves running back Dontravious Wilson took a handoff and broke to a hole on the right side of the line.

A self-proclaimed "physical" running back, Wilson busted a potential Jefferson County tackler, and then showed that he had some shiftiness in his repertoire, as well.

Juking right, the junior snuck by the only remaining defender and scooted into the end zone for a 35-yard score.

It was a giant leap from where his season began.
Before the season, Wilson wasn't even on the team's roster.

Forget about getting many carries or having a significant impact on a team that was loaded and pursuing its fifth consecutive state title.

After transferring in from Lithia Springs High, Wilson was just trying to learn the plays and hoping that, eventually, he'd get a shot to prove himself on the field.

"When I transferred in, I was just trying to learn the plays," Wilson said. "It was hard, but I did as much as I could to get ready."

It was late in the team's sixth game of the season, a 35-7 win over then-No. 4 Lovett, that things started to click.

With the game in hand, Wilson was able to get some late touches against some of the best competition he'd face all year.

In the second half, he rushed for 80 yards and a touchdown, leaving scorekeepers scrambling to figure out who "No. 1" was.

He busted a 65-yard touchdown run against Clarkston two weeks later, and added another long score in the region championship against Blessed Trinity.

Now, as Buford prepares for its quarterfinal game against Elbert County, Wilson is the team's second-leading rusher, behind Andre Johnson, with 532 yards and seven touchdowns.

"You knew he had some talent," coach Jess Simpson said of Wilson. "You knew it was just going to be a matter of him learning our system and our way of doing things. But he's a kid who's just really improved week by week and gotten himself in a position where he's playing meaningful snaps in every game."

Simpson said that one benefit of having Wilson progress throughout the year was that it was like having two of the same backs on the field, indicating the similarities between Wilson and Johnson.

"(Wilson's) a big back that has sudden, very quick feet," he said. "He can get in and out of cuts and accelerate, and he's a load to bring down. I know both of them have some strengths here and there that may be a little different, but it's almost like having two of the same style of runner."

Getting to that point, however, wasn't easy for Wilson.
Wilson said that one of the hardest things for him was just the change he experienced in transferring schools.

"That was the hardest part, I think," Wilson said. "Just from the academics to sports and everything. I just had to work twice as hard to get caught up. But I was willing to work to get my playing time."

Not to mention how difficult it is to stand out with as many talented players as Buford - a team that, despite the abundance of next-level talent, values team above individual success at all times.

Just look at the backfield.

Johnson, the team's leading rusher with 787 yards and 15 touchdowns, leads a group of runners that is as deep as any in the state. Behind him and Wilson, there is Nathan Staub (388 yards and eight touchdowns) and Rick LeGrant (334 yards on 15 carries).

Six other rushers, including quarterback Sam Clay, have 100 yards or more on the season, and 15 different players have scored touchdowns.

And both Staub and Simpson were quick to note the contributions of C.J. Moore, who has less than 200 yards this season and has scored only once, but is an essential change of pace for the team.

More than a third of Staub's yards came in a big performance against Jefferson County last Friday when he carried five times for 133 yards, including a 90-yard touchdown run.

Simpson commended Staub, who recently committed to play middle linebacker at North Carolina, on his leadership for the team.

"Nathan's one of our really strong senior leaders," Simpson said. "He's a high-character guy and he's played hurt a lot over the last couple of years. I think, as much as anybody, he's got a tremendous amount of respect from his teammates."

Complementary to the running style of Wilson and Johnson, Staub, a fullback, most often puts his head down, runs between the tackles and tries to eat up moderate chunks of yardage at a time.

"I'm a little bit bigger guy, so, just from the fullback spot, it's a little different," Staub said of his running style. "You just put your head down a little more and try to run through them."

And then he ran for his 90-yarder, busting a tackle and sprinting away from trailing defenders, making it obvious that he can make the big plays, too.

"Nathan did some pretty impressive things on that run," Simpson said.

For Johnson, consistency is the key.

While he can make that spectacular run, most often, he can be seen picking up an 8-to-10-yard gain.

"There's a lot of dirty work that goes into our success," Simpson said. "It's easy to forget that.

"We have so many people working hard to make this thing work - from the offensive line, to the tight end, to the backs - that we don't have a lot of backs that beat their chest and show off their individual statistics."

Staub spoke shortly about the depth and talent of his teammates.

"We always kind of joke about what it would be like to prepare for us," Staub said. "I'm just glad we don't have to do it."


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