Nick Tyndal of the Millville High School football team throws a block on a sweep, looks up and sees Thunderbolts running back Alquann Jones 20 yards downfield.
"How did he get there that quick?" Tyndal, one of the region's top linemen, asks himself.
Jones is in the midst of one of the best seasons ever by local running back. The senior has rushed 254 times for 1,779 yards and 20 touchdowns. Millville (9-0) meets Washington Township (7-2) in a South Jersey Group IV semifinal at 7 p.m. today at Millville's Wheaton Field. The winner advances to the final on Dec. 2 at Rowan University.
Jones wows fans and stuns opponents with his speed and quickness.
"It just comes to me," Jones said of the moves he makes on the field. "It's like I'm used to do doing it."
The day after games, Jones watches himself on video.
"Sometimes I don't realize what I've done," he said. "I'm like, 'Ooh, did you see what I did?' "
Only three other local running backs - Matt McLain of Pinelands Regional (2,544 yards last season; William Washington of Holy Spirit (2,060 yards in 2007); and Keith Elias of Lacey Township (2,299 yards in 1989) - have rushed for more than 2,000 yards in a season.
Jones is 221 yards away from becoming No. 4. Millville has at least two games remaining - tonight's and its annual Thanksgiving contest against Vineland.
It seems as if once a game, Jones makes a run that causes fans to shake their heads in disbelief. In Millville's 27-19 win over Atlantic City on Nov. 4, it came in the fourth quarter.
He took a handoff and burst up the middle into the Vikings secondary. Jones then zigzagged between three Atlantic City defensive backs and then sprinted untouched for a 66-yard touchdown.
"I tell the offensive line, 'If you block hard, I'll run hard,' " he said. "I try to hide behind them and I see an opening I try to blast right through it."
On some plays, Tyndal sprints as hard as he can to block the opposing team's safety. Often, he finds Jones is already there and sprinting past the defender.
"I'm like, 'Well that was pointless,' " Tyndal said. "All you have to do is open a little hole or crease and he's gone."
Jones didn't start playing organized football until the seventh grade. He's one of six children. His older brother is 2008 Millville graduate and current Rowan University standout defensive back Mookie Holland.
Jones said his family didn't have the money to pay for him to play when he was young.
Jones began to attract attention when he rushed for 861 yards last season. Jones dedicated himself to improving in the offseason, lifting weights and running sprints in the hot sun.
"You could see him building toward this year," said Millville head coach Jason Durham. "He approached the offseason with a whole new level of intensity."
At 5-foot-8, 168 pounds, Jones doesn't look like a workhorse back. Still, he averages 28.2 carries per game. Durham said Jones wants to be in on every snap.
"He might look little in pads," Tyndal said, "but when you see him work out he's (strong)."
Jones admits he wakes up sore the day after games.
"I'm sore on Saturday mornings, but then again I know I have a game next Friday, so I'm hyped up at the same time," he said.
The home and visiting bleachers at Wheaton Field should be packed tonight. Millville hasn't played in a South Jersey final since 1997. Millville is 9-0 for the first time since 1975 when the Thunderbolts won their only South Jersey Group IV title. The Thunderbolts won their first Cape-Atlantic League title since 1989 this season.
"It's fun making history," Jones said.
It's even more fun to make history in a town like Millville, which has a deep appreciation of high school football. The Thunderbolts are one of the few schools to sell season tickets to their games.
"There's been a lot of hype, and a lot of people want to come to the game and watch," Jones said.
Jones wants to play college football, but has no firm scholarship offers yet. Millville coaches have sent his highlight video to several different schools.
"We're hoping somebody is going to take a shot on him," Durham said. "He's a small back, but he's a big talent."
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