By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
PORT CHARLOTTE — Brennan Norus put himself in the Port Charlotte record books last year, as he rushed for a school-best 1,821 yards in his senior season.
The Pirates will return 10 of 11 offensive starters in 2016, and while the loss of Norus may be a big one, replacing him won’t be as difficult as it appears in head coach Jordan Ingman’s triple-option offense.
“It’s all dictated on what the defense does,” Ingman said. “For some reason last year, the defense gave us Brennan, and we took it. If they take away our fullbacks this year, then our pitch backs will have big numbers. It’s not like we go in and say this is the guy we’re going to force the ball to. We’re going to give the ball to the guys who gives our team better.”
Ingman and the Pirates will take a step towards next season Friday when they host Bayshore in their spring. They’ll look to build on a year where they went 7-5 and lost to rival Charlotte in the regional semifinals.
“The experience we gained last year with all those young kids was invaluable,” Ingman said. “If we can get back to where we were last year, now the kids know what to expect. You can’t put a price tag on experience in high school football. You can’t measure it.”
Thanks to a slew of injuries in the Port Charlotte backfield last year, eight different running backs carried the ball for the Pirates, which means there’s a group with an established familiarity.
Of those eight backs from last year, the returning leader is senior Ernest Harvey, who, between rushing and receiving, totaled 1,070 yards in the regular season with 10 touchdowns.
Sharing a backfield with Norus proved to be a learning experience for Harvey.
“We’ve worked hard to become better than we were last year,” Harvey said. “Brennan taught us to keep going. Even if it’s impossible, you have to keep trying.”
Harvey, along with sophomore Marc Jean-Louis, will occupy the pitch back positions of Ingman’s system, just as they did last year.
“Marc was a true freshman starter for us,” Ingman said. “We’re going to plug the guys in, and we’re going to take what the defense gives us. There were games where Ernest Harvey had the big game last year. That’s because they took Brennan away. If a kid can play hard, he can play for us.”
With the outside options assured, who is going to be the inside back?
Enter Matthew McGee.
The senior occupied seven different positions last year on both sides of the ball, and because of some early injuries, he’ll get first crack at being Brennan Norus 2.0.
Despite his predecessor rushing for more yards than anyone in school history, McGee knows he can’t compete with former players.
“I feel no pressure at all,” McGee said. “Yeah, I’m no Brennan Norus. Those are big shoes to fill, but I can just strive to do as well as he did, and push to do even more. That’s always the mindset.”
McGee says the power back is his favorite position of all the seven he played last year, and says his speed and shiftiness will be an advantage when he runs between the tackles.
He, along with Jean-Louis and Harvey, will look to make a name for themselves next year, but won’t forget what they learned from Norus.
“It was a good experience,” running back Marc Jean-Louis said of sharing the backfield with Norus. “His intensity motivated the team to do better. He taught us to keep going hard, and never quit even if it seems impossible.”