Replacing 3,000-yard running backs isn’t an easy task — unless your name is Miles Harrison.
By CHACE BRYSON | Editor
As the 2012 Clayton Valley Charter High football team was in the heart of its unexpected, inspiring run to the CIF Div. II Norther Regional Bowl game, coach Tim Murphy was already planting seeds for the following season.
Junior varsity running back Miles Harrison was one player who Murphy never failed to remind of his future plans.
“Last season he’d keep telling me, ‘We aren’t going to have Joe (Protheroe) next year to help carry the team. You’ve got to be that guy,’” Harrison said following a mid-afternoon practice on Veterans Day, four days before the Eagles were to begin defense of their North Coast Section Div. II crown by hosting San Lorenzo in a playoff opener.
Harrison hasn’t failed to be that guy.
The 5-10, 205-pound junior tailback has been the lightning rod for a Clayton Valley team averaging more than 400 yards of offense per game, and has scored less than 49 points just twice in 10 games. After a season-opening loss to state-No. 1 De La Salle, the Eagles have won 10 straight (one by forfeit), including the postseason opener against San Lorenzo.
And if recent trends mean anything, Harrison is only getting stronger.
Against San Lorenzo, he needed just nine carries to rumble 118 yards for four touchdowns. The week before, in a regular-season finale with the Diablo Valley Athletic League title hanging in the balance, Harrison carried 23 times for career-highs of 295 yards and five touchdowns.
“Our offensive line and run game is definitely the strongest part of the offense,” senior quarterback Gabe Taylor said. “It seems like every third time (Miles) touches the ball it’s a huge gain. We hardly have to throw the ball. Even though I’d love to, I’m OK with that.”
Harrison grew up in Concord and began playing youth football for the Clayton Valley Falcons when he was 8.
Before that, he’d tried about everything else.
“I just wanted to go out and play all the sports I could,” he said.
When he finally decided to try football he wanted to be a lineman because that’s what his dad had played for Lincoln High of San Francisco. After one year in the trenches, his years of playing Madden Football spurred a change of heart— he asked to try out for running back.
That was that.
As Harrison was attempting to hone his craft as a big-play tailback with the junior varsity a year ago, senior Joe Protheroe was putting together the most productive varsity season ever by a Clayton Valley running back. Protheroe was the perfect mix of speed and power for Murphy’s blend of the double-wing and pistol offense. His final numbers were video-game like.
In 14 games, Protheroe carried the ball 234 times for 3,014 yards — an average of nearly 13 yards a carry. He rushed for 34 touchdowns and had 36 overall.
Harrison was called up to the varsity for the last week of the regular season and scored his first varsity touchdown during a lopsided 61-6 win over Mt. Diablo. The rest of his time on the roster that season would consist of one postseason carry.
The most useful experience he gained was watching Protheroe.
“I just watched how Joe played,” Harrison said. “I watched how he handled all that pressure. He just played like himself. He relaxed and did his thing.”
Murphy had been watching Harrison, and he had a feeling the young back would be ready to take over come 2013.
“Everyone was like ‘Wow, he’s got some big shoes to fill,’” Murphy said. “But I really felt like he was going to fill them. As great as Joe was, I think Miles is great also.”
Harrison didn’t get to wade into the varsity waters. His first varsity start meant lining up against De La Salle. He would rush for 176 yards and a touchdown as the Eagles hung tough for a half before falling 34-14.
The Eagles used their solid showing to springboard into the rest of their nonleague schedule and posted a flurry of runaway victories over a number of overmatched teams. Harrison and the offense kept putting up big numbers, but were often on the sidelines by the second half.
Six straight wins by 35 points or more, followed by a forfeit victory when an injury-depleted Mt. Diablo wasn’t going to be able field a team, and Clayton Valley’s confidence was high — and its close-game experience was low.
“Our starters hadn’t played a full football game from (De La Salle) on August 30, to when we played Concord (on Nov. 1),” Murphy said. “It took its toll.”
The Eagles archrival pushed them to the limit and had a potential game-winning 2-point conversion pass fall incomplete on the final play of the game. Clayton Valley survived its wake-up call 49-48.
One week later, Harrison led a very determined team to its second outright DVAL title. It was the Eagles’ biggest game of the year to that point, and Harrison ran with serious purpose. His first-down runs, often driving through or carrying Northgate defenders, were just as impressive as his 41- and 50-yard scoring runs in which he went virtually untouched after a single cutback.
“He’s got a really good, solid package of being able to see things and break tackles,” Murphy said of his star tailback. “His speed needs to get better, but breaking tackles and seeing things is something he’s really good at. You can’t really teach the vision part of it. You can teach breaking tackles, but the vision part is God-given and he just needs to take it further by getting faster.”
Harrison’s efforts against Northgate and in the playoff opener against San Lorenzo serve as a microcosm of the team’s re-vamped hunger and focus which manifested from the near-loss to Concord. But it’s also important to note that the hunger was there before.
Those who were part of the 27-24 loss to Oakdale in the CIF Div. II Northern Regional bowl game a year ago want a second chance at playing their way into a CIF State Bowl game.
“They got a little taste of it last year,” Murphy said. “But last year they were just blown away when I told them we were going to win a section title. And when we got there, they were excited. I almost felt like they already exceeded what they probably thought they could, and they weren’t that hungry to get to the next game.”
Getting there this year will require an NCS quarterfinal win over Las Lomas on Nov. 22, a potential semifinal matchup with either Northgate or a 10-win Miramonte team on Nov. 29 or 30, and then a possible finals rematch with Concord or undefeated top-seed Casa Grande either Dec. 6 or 7.
Murphy believes the team is progressing at the rate needed to get there, but he wants to see improvement defensively.
“I think we’ve done some good things (defensively),” the coach said. “We’re good at tackling and taking correct angles, but right now we have to do a little better job at covering the pass. … If we can get better at that, I think we’ll be alright.”
Offensively, the player he was asking a little more than a year ago to be ready has nearly 1,500 yards and 30 TDs. He’s ready.
“I just like that feeling,” Harrison said, “that when we need it — when we need the touchdown or first down — I like knowing that I’m the guy our team counts on.”
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