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ON HIGH SCHOOLS

Junior may be area's best back ever

On Dunbar's Tavon Austin

December 11, 2007|By MILTON KENT

You should know that Tavon Austin, perhaps the best high school running back the Baltimore area has ever produced, is never amazed by what he does when he twists and turns and motors through a defense.

Oh, he might not always know exactly what he's going to do when he approaches a line, a linebacker, a defensive back. In fact, Austin never really plans for what's coming.

But whatever happens, just know that while you might be surprised, Austin is not.

"That's how I've always done it since I was 7," Austin said matter-of-factly after leading Dunbar to a second straight Class 1A state title Saturday. "It's just that now I'm in the spotlight. I always did it this way. When it happens, it just happens."

Funny thing about that word "it": That's what Austin has. "It" is the quality to make every eye in the stadium zero in on your every movement during every moment of the game.

Actually, the "it" that Austin possesses in great quantities is what Sun columnist Dan Rodricks calls duende, which he describes as "a potent elixir of charisma, passion, panache, flair, chemistry, soul, style, grace under pressure and star quality; a living thing, a spirit that dances in the imagination and ignites the soul."

Austin, a junior who ran for 135 yards and three touchdowns on eight carries and caught four passes for 57 yards in pacing the Poets to a 58-34 win over Allegany, didn't just put up show-stopping numbers this season.

He also produced more than a few Madden '08 moments, including the 32-yard run during which he leaped over a blocker in the second quarter on the way to a touchdown.

Even better, later in the same quarter when quarterback Jonathon Perry floated a pass to a spot somewhere in the left corner of the end zone. In one moment, the Allegany defender was between the ball and Austin. In the next, Austin zipped past the cornerback and gathered in the pass for a touchdown.

The play got called back because of a penalty, but all of M&T Bank Stadium knew the truth that has grabbed Baltimore football by the throat for roughly the past two years: No one can stop Tavon Austin.

And, because defenses devote so much time and effort trying to refute that truth, other Poets get a chance to shine. Perry was coolly efficient, throwing for 235 yards and three touchdowns, all to receiver Sean Farr, who caught five passes for 137 yards. Austin, Perry and Farr are juniors, which means they'll probably be doing this sort of thing all next year.

Austin, who also plays defensive back, might have made his most valuable offensive contribution Saturday playing defense. With the Poets leading 8-6 midway through the first quarter, Austin had just caught a 41-yard pass to the Allegany 19. On the ensuing first down, Perry rolled right and threw back left in the flat for Austin but left too much air under the pass. Allegany's Cameron Butler moved in for the interception with about 80 yards of green in front of him.

At the last second, Austin reached up in front of Butler and batted away the pass. One play later, Perry got leveled by the pass rush but threw a jump ball that found Farr at the goal line. Farr pulled the pass in and scored, giving Dunbar a 10-point lead.

"I think that's the play that turned the game around," Austin said. "That interception would have made us have to work hard. It was really my fault. I was supposed to have come to the ball, but I didn't. And when I first saw him [Butler] come up, I just wanted to knock it down."

Game over.

Championship won.

Mission accomplished.

That mission was to keep a promise Austin said he made to Ben Eaton, the Dunbar coach who nurtured him before he died of a heart attack the week before the season started, namely that the Poets would return to the state championship.

Lawrence Smith, who replaced Eaton, praised Austin for his commitment to keeping another part of Eaton's legacy alive, namely the building of a program, signified by producing athletes who can compete in the classroom and on the field.

Austin is taking SAT prep courses twice a week so he can fully qualify for the big-time schools offering scholarships.

"Coach Eaton was always about the program," Smith said. "He used to say, `You can win as many championships as you want, but you don't have a program if you're not sending kids to college, because [otherwise] you're just using them for four years.' So, that's what our program believes, and that's what we're trying to do.

"[Tavon] is serious about the books because he's trying to get to the next level, and one thing about Tavon is people don't have to doubt his effort."

Nor can they doubt that he has it. He has plenty of it, and before long, the entire country will see it and be amazed.

Tavon Austin won't be, though.

milton.kent@baltsun.com

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