Last season, Calvin Cass played wide receiver and felt his high school football career slipping away.
Now he's a running back and the St. Augustine Prep senior leads South Jersey in rushing with 640 yards. The undefeated Hermits (3-0) play at Ocean City (0-3) at 7 p.m. today.
Cass, 17, excelled at running back growing up in Sicklerville. His father Calvin Cass Sr. starred at running back for Army, graduating in 1990. But the younger Cass voluntarily switched to wide receiver when he enrolled at St. Augustine Prep in 2009.
"I saw St. Augustine ran the spread offense," Cass said. "I decided to become a route receiver because I thought that would be the best opportunity for me to make the most impact on offense."
But last season as a junior, Cass asked to be switched back to running back. Interim coach Tony Iaconelli gave him a chance at his old position.
"The way the season was going last year, we weren't winning," Cass said. "We were all struggling. We all had our problems. But I only had one more year left. That made it more urgent for e to get back to (running back) something I'm comfortable at, and I know I can excel at it."
It only took two series for Cass to prove he belonged in the backfield. He made his debut in the fourth quarter against Millville last Oct. 28.
He took a handoff, sprinted up the middle, made a few would-be tacklers miss and headed for the end zone.
Only a desperation tackle by a Millville defensive back stopped Cass from scoring.
"A shoe-string tackle got me," he said. "That run brought back all the old feelings, all the old moves."
Since then, the 5-foot-10, 195-pound Cass has been one of the region's best running backs. In his first start at running back, he rushed for a Cape-Atlantic League record 336 yards in a 34-13 win over Paul VI last Nov. 11.
"I didn't believe it," Cass said. "When the game was over and they told me it was a Cape-Atlantic League rushing record, I was like, 'Did I really?' I was like in a twilight zone."
He's been just as dominant this season. Cass averages 8.5 yards per carry and leads the area with 14 touchdowns. Cass rushed for six touchdowns and 238 yards as the Hermits beat Vineland 48-6 last Friday. St. Augustine's no-huddle offense is averaging 44 points per game.
"With the team we have, with the coaching we have, I'm just a product of the system," Cass said. "I'm the instrument they're using to get things done, and it's just a blessing right now."
That quote is in keeping with Cass' low-key personality, but St. Augustine first-year coach Mark Reardon said the running back worked tirelessly in the offseason to get bigger and faster. He's the strongest Hermit in the weight room.
"This isn't a mistake," Reardon said of Cass' success.
Colleges are beginning to notice Cass, who is also an outstanding student with an 'A' average. The Naval Academy is recruiting him. Bryant University in Rhode Island and Monmouth University - both Division I Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) schools - have offered him scholarships.
For a player to become such a dominant force at running back so late in his high career is rare today. Most standout running backs begin to emerge as sophomores. Most enter high school with big reputations earned in junior football.
"Kids have become so specific today in the positions they'll play," Reardon said. "But when you give someone an opportunity and they take advantage of that opportunity anything can happen."
Cass runs with great vision, according to Reardon.
"He's a downhill kid that has the ability to be a slasher," Reardon said. "He's a power back, but he can cut it back if he has to. He's a rock of a muscle."
Although he can't help but think what might have been if he began his high school career as a running back, Cass doesn't regret his time at wide receiver.
"It was the right thing to do at the time, and I still feel that way," he said. "But I'm extremely happy I've made the move."
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