Matt McLain faces a daunting task each week - how to top himself.

The Pinelands Regional High School senior running back and cornerback is in the midst of one of the best seasons by any player in the state.

The 5-foot-9, 170-pound McLain has rushed 144 times for 1,297 yards, which is more than 9 yards per carry. He also leads the area in scoring with 14 touchdowns. He is both fast and elusive.

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For most running backs, 100 yards in a game is excellent. McLain has twice rushed for more than 300 yards in a contest and has gained at least 200 yards in four of Pinelands' five games.

With those statistics come expectations. Fans and opposing defenses want to see each week if McLain is as good as his numbers.

So far, he has made plenty of people believers. Pinelands began the season with high expectations led by a senior class that is one of the most talented in school history.

The Wildcats (3-2) are in contention for a South Jersey Group III playoff spot. Pinelands hosts Manchester Township (4-2) at 7 p.m. today.

McLain lives in Tuckerton and rushed for more than 1,000 yards last year. Pinelands coach Sean DeRosa has said all season that he believes McLain is a Division I college prospect, but the player has yet to get any firm scholarship offers.

On what he thinks when he looks at his statistics: I'm surprised but all the credit goes to my line. A couple of games I thought I would get 100 yards or maybe 200 yards, but then they tell me I got 300. I'm really always surprised by how many yards I have at the end of the game. My friends tell me it's crazy.

On proving himself every week: I feel like people look at my stats and say, "Oh, he got lucky." I feel like I have to keeping going out and prove week in and week out that I can do this. Coming into the season, I felt I was underrated, and I just wanted to prove I was one of the top guys in the Shore. I still feel like I'm underrated, but we haven't had any significant wins, so I'm just going to keep fighting.

On his college future: Nobody's let me know anything. I'm trying to get colleges to talk to me. I get letters from a bunch of (FCS) schools like (Massachusetts) and the University of Albany, but other than letters, nobody's really talked to me. I definitely want to play college ball. I'll probably look more into it after the season.

On tonight's game against Manchester: This is a huge game for us. We're not looking past Manchester. This is a big opportunity for us. We definitely want to go out and prove we can make it to the playoffs. We don't want to be told we're the best class (in Pinelands history) and do nothing with it.

On how he started playing football: I started playing when I was 7 or 8 years old. I used to do karate, but I started playing football because I was always a fast kid. My neighbor, who doesn't play football anymore, signed up and he asked me if I wanted to sign up.

On growing up in Tuckerton: It's different. It's quiet. Everyone knows everyone because it's a small town.

On his favorite running back: I don't model myself after anyone, but I do look up to Barry Sanders. I wasn't around in his day, but I watch his highlights on You Tube all the time.

As told to Michael McGarry


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