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Year of the running back: Grand Island's Mike Blocho tops star-studded field of ball carriers

Once the high school football season was over, Depew coach Dan McGrath was doing his yearly statistical review of the season. And he kept adding . . . and adding . . . and adding.

There were plenty of coaches doing the math the last few weeks. Record-setting running backs ran all over Western New York this season, from Depew's Tim Hall to Eden's Keien Williams to Southwestern's Dustin Bowser to Albion's Derek Kinder. And that was just in Section VI's Class B.

In what added up to the Year of the Running Back, the 2003 Buffalo News Player of the Year is Grand Island's Mike Blocho. The senior from the Class A champion Vikings highlights the 46th All-Western New York team, which is selected by The Buffalo News, Dick Gallagher of Western New York High School Sports and the Trench Trophy Committee, in consultation with area coaches.

In a season in which the first team is literally a fullhouse backfield of candidates, Blocho survived one of the toughest Player of the Year races in the 27-year history of the award with his relentless running and ferocious play on both sides of the ball.

The 5-foot-8, 170-pound Blocho rushed for 2,210 yards on 234 hard-charging carries, and used his speed to score 26 touchdowns. He had 42 tackles from his defensive back position, coming up with many of those at the season's most crucial times.

In the Section VI Class A championship game at Ralph Wilson Stadium, Blocho rushed for 181 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries to help lead the Vikings to a 45-12 defeat of Lew-Port; he played only three quarters. On defense, Blocho reeled in fellow All-Western New York first-teamer and Class A North co-Player of the Year Joe Cerminara from his defensive back position. During GI's Class A North title-securing 13-7 win over defending champion Sweet Home, the Panthers' final drive ended when Blocho forced a fumble with his only sack of the season.

Blocho called the Vikings' title win over Lew-Port his most memorable moment of his season, but those who saw Grand Island's 31-28 loss to Victor in the Far West Regionals certainly will remember that one.

After Grand Island quarterback Chris Sica left the game in the first half due to injury, the state's top-ranked team knew it could key on Blocho coming out of the backfield, and it still couldn't stop him. Blocho's trademark slam-dances through the line of scrimmage seemed to become harder as the game wore on, and he finished with 255 yards on a season-high 32 carries.

Blocho finished his career with 3,730 yards and 45 touchdowns. He also had a kick return average of 26.4 yards and punt return average of 14.7, but his all-around play isn't limited to the football field. He's also a standout lacrosse player, earning All-American honors last season as a junior and mulling offers from several Division I programs.

Blocho is the 29th player honored by The News and the fourth Viking on the list, joining brothers Cliff (1989) and Anthony (1992) Scott and Bob McDonnell (1991).

This was the most prolific season for 1,000-yard rushers in Western New York history. There are at least 29 players who reached the mark this year -- equaling the high of 2000 -- with several schools still working the calculators to add up their stats.

Eleven players surpassed the 1,500-yard mark this season; last season there were just five. Four of those went for more than 2,000 yards, including Bowser's Western New York single-season record of 2,447 that helped him to the second-best career rushing total in WNY history at 5,883. Williams -- who outran Bowser, 300-274, in a highlight-filled Section VI Class B championship won by Eden, 48-33 -- had 2,363. Jhamal Fluellen of Class A champion Lockport had 2,055.

Ten of the 26 spots on this year's All-Western New York first team were taken by 1,000-yard rushers, including Cerminara (1,790), Cody Williams (1,750) of Class A runner-up Orchard Park, Kinder (1,705), Darius Connor (1,368) of Harvard Cup regular season champion Burgard, Hall (1,140) and Pasquale Raimondo (1,078) of large school poll champion St. Francis. Raimondo wasn't even the only 1,000-yard rusher in his own backfield, as he was joined by junior Zak Kedron (1,193).

But the numbers run on in all sorts of directions. Name a class, and there were eye-popping numbers. Just a freshman, T.J. McDuffie rushed for more than 1,000 yards for St. Joe's. Jamestown sophomore Brett Shaw made his first varsity start a stunner by running for 359 yards against Clarence in the 16th-best output in WNY history. In any other season, Kenmore West junior James Mallory would be on the first team instead of the second after a season of 1,579 yards and 17 touchdowns on 231 carries.

Mallory has great company on the second team with a pair of running backs who were first-teamers as juniors last season. South Park's James Henley, hampered by injuries throughout the season, still managed to become the first player in Western New York history to rush for 1,000 yards in four straight seasons. William Fernandez of Sweet Home became the Panthers' all-time rusher (2,734) with a 1,268-yard season.

The 1,000-yard list even included a quarterback in Lake Shore's Jake Graci, who ran for 1,130 yards on 135 carries. Graci had a great pass-and-run duel in Week Eight of the season against Olean's James Wright, who earned the All-WNY first team spot for his ability to do damage with his feet as well as his arm.

Among the other standout rushing seasons included Ronald Keels of Cardinal O'Hara (1,741) and Ellicottville's Dave Erlandson, who set a school record with his 1,822 yards. St. Mary's junior Adam Bistoff rushed for 1,453 yards and 21 touchdowns to lead the Lancers to the Monsignor Martin Association's League A title, Randolph's Steve McElwain ran for 1,611 yards to take the Cardinals to the Class D championship and West Seneca East's Adam Hyde also set a school mark (1,082).

RUNNING WILD
All-WNY first teamers with over 1,700 yards:
PlayerYardsAttTD
Dustin Bowser, Southwestern2,44730827
Keien Williams, Eden2,36329737
Mike Blocho, Grand Island2,21023426
Jhamal Fluellen, Lockport2,05523722
Joe Cerminara, Lew-Port1,79018829
Cody Williams, Orchard Park1,75025215
Derek Kinder, Albion1,70519733

NEWS PLAYER OF THE YEAR
2003: Mike Blocho, Grand Island
2002: Jehuu Caulcrick, Clymer
2001: Dustin Ross, Salamanca
2000: Aaron Leeper, Jamestown
1999: Joe West, Lackawanna
1998: Sandro DeAngelis, St. Joe's
1997: Frank Pavicich, Niagara-Wheatfield
1996: Frank Pavicich, Niagara-Wheatfield
1995: Malik Campbell, Turner/Carroll
1994: David Hinson, Jamestown
1993: Warren Miles, Lackawanna
1992: * Teddy McDuffie, Grover Cleve.
1992: * Anthony Scott, Grand Island
1991: Bob McDonnell, Grand Island
1990: Randy Smith, Lockport
1989: * Kevin Mason, West Seneca East
1989: * Cliff Scott, Grand Island
1988: Jim Snyder, Medina
1987: Mark Anderson, Orchard Park
1986: Ray Braxton, Lackawanna
1985: Kevin Deakin, St. Joe's
1984: Dan Mettica, Williamsville South
1983: Daryl Johnston, Lewiston-Porter
1982: Ken Johnson, Jamestown
1981: Shane Conlan, Frewsburg
1980: Ron Pitts, Orchard Park
1979: None
1978: * Carl Chase, Canisius
1978: * Alan Copeland, Lancaster
1977: Mike Wallace, Fredonia
* co-Players of Year.

e-mail: kmcshea@buffnews.com

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