DADE CITY — When he shares a backfield with a Division I-A quarterback and the open field with two D-I receivers, it’s easy to overlook Pasco junior David Emmanuel.
He doesn’t have the arm of QB Jacob Guy, the speed of Trey Dudley-Giles or the flash of Janarion Grant.
When the Pirates head into Friday’s Class 5A region semifinal against Citra North Marion, few players will be as crucial for Pasco as the 1,000-yard rusher with the unmatched work ethic.
“I say all the time they make me look better,” Guy said. “He definitely makes me play better.”
Emmanuel gave peeks of his hard work in Monday’s practice.
At running back, Emmanuel finished a rush against an imaginary defense with a 30-yard dash into open field. At linebacker, he barreled low into a ball carrier, upending the tailback and knocking the ball out.
At the end of the night, he ran sprints and did pushups with the linemen before joining some of the skill players to charge up and down a hill.
“Me working hard, it makes others work hard,” Emmanuel said. “I try to go hard during practice and show them my hard work.”
The blue-collar effort instilled from two working-class parents is building Emmanuel into a blue-chip recruit.
Emmanuel leads Pasco County and ranks 10th in Tampa Bay with 1,159 rushing yards while averaging an astounding 12.3 yards per carry. He has rushed for a team-high 18 touchdowns, caught two more and returned a kickoff 75 yards for a score against district runnerup Fivay.
“I just give him props for everything he does,” Grant said.
Grant is one of the reasons Emmanuel has developed into an all-North Suncoast player as a sophomore.
Emmanuel and Grant grew close as kids on the same peewee football team and began to dedicate themselves to the gridiron in middle school. They set up cones in their front yards during the offseason to hone agility and quickness. The speed developed there made
Emmanuel fast enough to run the first leg of Pasco’s state-qualifying 4x100 relay team.
“It just came over time,” Emmanuel said.
Grant continues to push Emmanuel.
The two have a running, friendly duel over who can get the most yards and score the most touchdowns — an extra motivation during Pasco’s 50-point blowouts in the regular season. Grant holds a 23-21 lead in TDs, but Emmanuel leads in all-purpose yards (1,452-1,314).
Guy said you can tell the accolades and scholarship offers for Grant and Dudley-Giles fuel Emmanuel.
“Janarion and Trey are probably considered the two best athletes in this county, maybe in central Florida if they’re lucky,” Guy said. “David’s probably one of those hidden guys.
“Most people don’t like to be the hidden one. They like to have the flash. Sometimes the hidden one’s the best one. They come out when you need them. I know we’re going to need him this week.”
That’s because Emmanuel brings a different style of play to Pasco (11-0). Dudley-Giles is a speedster. Grant is a juker. Emmanuel is a wrecking ball.
The 6-foot, 185-pound Emmanuel has the quickness and agility to run around defenders, but he prefers to run over them.
“He runs the ball like a train,” Grant said. “It’s crazy.”
In a 57-yard touchdown run against Land O’Lakes, Emmanuel broke two tackles near the line of scrimmage and bounced outside. He sped past one defender, cut back on another and stiff-armed a final Gator on his way into the end zone to extend the Pirates’ lead to 20.
Emmanuel practices those moves every day, racing 20 or 30 yards after every handoff so he knows what to do when he gets into the secondary during games.
“Just how they like it in college,” Guy said.
And colleges are beginning to like Emmanuel. USF, Cincinnati, Rutgers and Miami have expressed interest in the speedy bowling ball.
Emmanuel has spent most of his time on offense — he ended the regular season with only 14 tackles — but was pivotal on defense in the playoff opener.
He batted down a third-down pass in the closing minutes to help preserve a 21-14 victory over Alachua Santa Fe and send the Pirates to the region semifinals for the second year in a row.
“We had the heart, but we just needed like a leader to step up on defense and get the job done,” Emmanuel said. “I just took it in my heart to do that for the team.”
His team will need a lot from him this week against North Marion (9-2) and its equally impressive athletes.
On defense, Emmanuel will try to corral running back Jamie Gilmore, a three-star recruit who rushed for four touchdowns in last week’s win over Fivay. The Colts’ secondary is quick and has allowed more than 14 points only twice all season.
Emmanuel knows that if North Marion focuses on stopping Pasco’s high-powered passing game, he must be ready to run over opponents to keep the Pirates working hard for another week.
“I just like going with what my team gives me,” Emmanuel said. “If they give me a little bit, I’m going to give them a lot.”
Staff writer Matt Baker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.