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Tale of two running backs

Expect CCC's Ronnie Harris and SPC's Jock Sanders to dominate the spotlight tonight.

By BOB PUTNAM
Published October 7, 2005


Tonight's game between St. Petersburg Catholic and Clearwater Central Catholic is more than just a big rivalry. It also is filled with intriguing matchups.

Both teams have strong-armed quarterbacks (the Barons' David Girardi and the Marauders' Andrew Nowels) and breathtaking receivers (SPC's Jermaine McKenzie and CCC's Riley Cooper).

But those head-to-head battles take a backseat to the one between the running backs.

The Barons' Jock Sanders and the Marauders' Ronnie Harris have both exuded the sort of strap-yourself-onto-my-back leadership that has helped their teams withstand the loss of several significant players early in the season.

In Week 2 against Jacksonville Trinity Christian, Girardi went down after taking a wicked hit that required stitches. Sanders replaced him and led SPC to a comeback win. He started at quarterback the next week against Jesuit before going back to tailback.

"The best part about Jock is that he's told me he'll do whatever it takes to help this team be successful," Barons coach Dan Mancuso said. "He's an extremely confident person, but he's just as much an unselfish player at that. But don't get me wrong, it is finally nice to have him back to where he's best suited to play."

Harris has remained at running back and has been the fulcrum of CCC's balanced attack. He leads the county in rushing with 920 yards, including 319 in last week's game against Berkeley Prep.

"I'll basically do whatever it takes to win," Harris said.

Marauders coach Mike Jalazo first fell in love with Harris' ability when he transferred from Clearwater last season. But Harris wasn't about to unseat four-year starter Paul Raven at tailback.

Faced with the possibility of sitting behind Raven for a year, Harris did something unheard of in this day and age: He waited. Last season, Harris humbly accepted his role as the "change of pace" back before settling in as the starter. This season he has been the mainstay and provided offensive punch when Riley and McCarthy both missed time after being ejected in the season opener against Jesuit.

"Ronnie has never complained," Jalazo said. "He started at cornerback for us last year and got in at times at running back. He'll do whatever you ask, and do it well."

Last week against the Buccaneers, Harris broke eight runs of more than 10 yards and five of more than 20.

He will be counted on again tonight.

"This year is my first as a full-time starter and I'm happy to take on the challenge of having so may carries," he said. "This week is a really big challenge."

Times correspondent Chris Girandola contributed to this report.