Talking point

Joppatowne's David Dudley is excelling as the featured back, just like he said he would.


While working out in Bill Waibel's weight-training class last spring, David Dudley repeatedly told the Joppatowne football coach not to worry about losing his starting backfield.

"I just wanted to make sure [he knew]," Dudley said. "I just told Coach that I'm going to step up to the challenge. I told him, `You don't have to worry about anything.' Coach takes me as a joke sometimes. He'd say, `We'll see,' and, `We hope you bring your "A" game.' "

Dudley wasted little time backing up his words with action. He caught everyone's attention by rushing for a school-record 383 yards in the team's win over Havre de Grace in the Mariners' second game. Dudley had 502 yards rushing after the first two games and never slowed down.

The senior finished the regular season with a county-best 1,582 yards rushing and 20 touchdowns, as he helped Joppatowne make the playoffs during its first year in Class 2A. He had 194 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries in Friday's 24-13 East regional semifinal win over North Caroline.

The Mariners will host Stephen Decatur of Worcester County in the regional final Friday.

The offense was Joppatowne's biggest question mark heading into the season. The Mariners had won the Class 1A state title in 2003 and finished as the runner-up last season, but they were moving up to a higher class this year and the whole backfield had graduated.

Waibel may have played coy with Dudley in the spring, but the coach all along thought Dudley would play a major role in the offense, and he was pleased that Dudley kept expressing his confidence.

"He told me several times that he was going to be the man," Waibel said. "We talked about it every day in the spring."

Dudley could have been "the man" as a junior, Waibel said, but senior Joe Ivory was the featured back in the team's power-I offense. Still, Dudley saw plenty of playing time last season, rushing for 535 yards and eight touchdowns.

"If he had been put in there last year, we wouldn't have missed a beat," Waibel said. "But he had to wait his turn."

Dudley, 5 feet 10 and 165 pounds, is a slashing runner who has no trouble making tacklers miss or just running right over them. He typically broke a big run or two per game to spark Joppatowne's offense, which relied heavily on misdirection and good blocking.

"I just knew that every time I gave him the ball that he'd do his thing," Joppatowne quarterback Antoine Brown said. "It's his whole all-around game [that's good]."

Dudley's achievements are even more impressive because he also plays cornerback and remains on the field for most of the game. He also had to battle through injuries to both shoulders, which occurred in the same game, against North Harford during the Mariners' fourth game. Dudley sprained his left shoulder and got a stinger in his right one during the 22-7 loss.

On the play right after he suffered the stinger, Dudley scored Joppatowne's lone touchdown despite having lost some feeling in the shoulder. The trainer and coaches made him sit out the second half of the game, but Dudley said he didn't want to come out.

"I didn't want Coach to think that just because I got hurt that I wasn't going to bounce back," Dudley said. "I wanted to show him that I was going to be what I said I was going to be."

Dudley sat out a few practices and had to wear a neck collar for the next three games, but he kept running in his usual physical style.

Opposing coaches have taken notice of Dudley's toughness. Edgewood coach Fred Myers had his team do extra work on tackling the week the Rams played at Joppatowne because he believed tackling Dudley would be a chore due to his short, choppy steps and uncanny ability to find the holes.

"He's just a tough kid and hard to bring down," Myers said. "You've got to bring the team to get him."

And that's exactly what Dudley was trying to tell Waibel last spring. He said he wasn't being arrogant when he told Waibel that he would carry the load in the backfield, just confident that he was able to do the job.

"I think I made him proud," said Dudley, who hopes to play football in college next season. "I made myself proud because I didn't let him down, didn't let the team down."

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