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BROOKSVILLE — Hernando opponents expecting a heavy dose of Alvin Delaine this season have found him more elusive than ever.
Mostly, though, because the senior running back hasn’t carried the ball as much as teams have become accustomed to seeing.
Make no mistake, Delaine remains the focal point of a Hernando offense that averages 232 yards a game, almost all of it on the ground. Delaine leads the Leopards in carries (42), yards (209) and touchdowns (four).
The talent surrounding Delaine, however, has improved, so much so that the 5-foot-10, 190-pounder no longer has to be the Leopards’ workhorse.
Fullback Marlin Smith has rushed 26 times and wears down defenses with his bullish running style.
Speedster Demarcus Maner, who might be the fastest of the Leopards’ backs, broke off a 26-yard touchdown run against Lecanto.
And fleet-footed sophomore Tyrail Hawkins provides Hernando with an extra dimension from the quarterback position. He’s a capable thrower who can bust loose using his legs at any time.
“It’s good because when they key on them, I’m going to be able to break one,” Delaine said. “When they key on me, they’re going to be able to break one.”
It’s a symbiotic relationship, one that’s jump-started Hernando to a 3-0 record for the first time in the three-year tenure of coach John Palmer. The Leopards will go for win No. 4 tonight against district foe Dunnellon (3-1).
“We have a lot of young talent coming through,” said senior lineman William Alderman. “Everybody’s been sharing the ball, and I don’t see (Delaine) really getting mad about it. I think that’s really helping with the team camaraderie.”
The x factor this season has been the running ability from Hawkins under center. Last season, starting quarterback Kall Daniel ran just 28 times for 7 total yards. Hawkins already has 20 carries. He signaled his arrival by breaking loose for a 90-yard touchdown run in a season-opening 28-3 win over Springstead, and he’s averaging more than 9 yards a carry.
“With his speed, he’s a threat,” Palmer said. “It’s another aspect that you’ve got to defend against. It’s not just Alvin or our fullback (Marlin Smith) hitting you up in the middle. You’ve got to be able to defend the whole field.”
That’s taken some of the pressure off Delaine and allowed him to play more defense for the Leopards. Last season, Delaine was a virtual non-factor on that side of the ball because he was used so heavily in the offense. In 2010, Delaine is one of the team leaders in tackles (16) and had an 88-yard interception return for a touchdown against Lecanto. That pick was the 10th of Delaine’s career, tying him for the all-time school record.
“Alvin’s role is different this year,” Palmer said. “He’s starting both ways for us and he’s really played good defensively. He’s on our return teams. He’s just one of those kids that has to play for us to be successful.”
Therein lies another advantage to Delaine’s limited offensive carries. With Delaine lining up at safety most of the game, the Leopards defense has thrived. Hernando has allowed only 27 points through three games, and the Leopards have forced eight turnovers.
“I think our defense definitely has carried us through these first three games,” Palmer said. “Our kids have been very tenacious.”
Before practice, Delaine wears a Hernando T-shirt. On the back, the number 15 precedes the phrase ‘Finish the Mission,’ a reference to the number of games the Leopards must play in order to win a state championship.
With the weapons surrounding Delaine this season, that mission becomes a bit more manageable.