TAMPA — Neither glitz nor gimmick precedes them. Their respective rushing styles haven’t evoked any catchy nicknames either. Thunder and Lightning, Fire and Ice, even M&Ms — nothing really fits.
But for those bent on branding Robinson’s newest backfield tandem of Martin Ruiz and Michael Duclos with a catchy title, how “bout simply Sledge and Jack.
“They’re both hammers,” veteran coach Mike DePue said. “We’ve got a two-hammer offense. But if they get open they’re rumbling.”
Of all the elements that have sparked the Knights’ improbable march to a 9-2 record and Class 5A second-round playoff berth, tenacity in tandem ranks among the most critical.
Operating behind an all-junior offensive line, and complemented by an all-purpose senior (Byron Pringle) and blossoming first-year quarterback (Vidal Woodruff), Ruiz and Duclos have effectively filled the gap created by the graduation of 1,400-yard rusher J.J. Hubbard.
They enter Friday’s hyped playoff rematch at Jesuit with 1,550 combined rushing yards and 20 touchdowns. Ruiz (138 carries, 910 yards, 12 TDs) averages 6.6 yards per carry; Duclos (108 carries, 640 yards) averages 5.9.
“They didn’t expect us to go this far and we proved them wrong,” said Duclos, a stocky freshman (5-6, 187) whose Pop Warner career remains part of South Tampa lore.
“They expected us to be like, a team that won’t make it to the playoffs or at least the first round, and we proved them wrong.”
To this point, they’ve done it more with fierce second effort than finesse.
Ruiz, a 5-10, 185-pound junior and cousin of former Knights two-way star (and Purdue freshman) Frankie Williams, spent time at linebacker last season while collecting 20 handoffs.
By the end of spring drills in May, DePue said, he projected to be the Knights’ workhorse for 2011. Then Duclos, the middle child of five kids and younger brother of Knights cornerback Carlos Duclos, emerged.
“Next year we expect (Ruiz) to be about 205. He doesn’t have the breakaway speed that J.J. did, but he’s got an innate ability to find the hole and just keep on going,” DePue said.
“Michael is more of a bowling ball-type kid. …He just has a motor that won’t quit. You better hold down because if you don’t …bring a load to try to stop him, his legs just keep on going. He fights and scratches and claws for every yard he can.”
This dual emergence has enabled offensive coordinator Rob Burns to diversify things in his backfield. Friday night at Corral Memorial Stadium, the Knights could employ anything from single- to split-back formations to a power-I attack.
All in an effort to lay the hammer down on the Knights’ most prevalent nemesis. Friday’s contest will be the teams’ fifth meeting since the start of the 2009 season. They’ve split the other four.
“Right now, both of them I consider running backs,” Burns said. “We don’t say one’s a halfback, one’s a fullback, one’s a tailback. They’re both backs. We can go either way, left or right. They both block for each other just as hard as the other one runs the ball.”