TAMPA — If tonight's game is like most others, Jesuit running back Kevin Newman will get a familiar text from his uncle.
"One cut and go."
The advice from his uncle, former Jefferson star and NFL linebacker Keith Newman, would be a reminder of how the younger Newman became one of Hillsborough County's top backs and a focal point of tonight's rivalry matchup against Tampa Catholic.
"I'm not the fastest or the quickest guy," Newman said. "I gotta use that one move, and I'm up and down the field."
It'd be easy to peg Jesuit as a passing team. One Testaverde (Vinny) is an assistant coach, and another (Vincent) is a talented quarterback who threw two touchdown passes last week.
But the Tigers remain committed to running the ball, picking up a few yards in a cloud of dust — the same strategy that has helped them stay atop this rivalry with 13 consecutive wins. Jesuit has outrushed TC 713-448 over their past four meetings, often relying on one key back to carry the load.
Four years ago, Robby Garcia churned out 204 yards and two touchdowns in a 24-14 win. The year before, Greg Dupell ran for 115 yards and three scores. In 2006, Kevin Valenti rushed 36 times for 165 yards and three TDs.
"That's what we are," first-year coach Matt Thompson said. "We're a running team."
So far, Newman hasn't had to carry the load himself. The 5-foot-10, 190-pound junior rushed for a team-high 67 yards on 11 carries in last year's 17-3 win, but five other Tigers had positive carries, too.
This season, he has shared the load with senior Ryan Black and freshman Malik Davis.
Black, a 180-pound bowling ball, lines up often at fullback, and Davis adds flash to the more downhill Newman.
The 5-10 speedster started his high school career with a bang, returning a punt 50 yards for a score in a preseason win over Palm Harbor University. Davis had 100 yards and a touchdown in a loss to Largo and rushed for another touchdown last week in a 35-0 win over Middleton that clinched the Class 5A, District 9 championship.
"It's almost like a thunder and lightning kind of deal," Thompson said. "Kevin has been around. He knows all the plays. Malik is still trying to fit in with the offense. We don't lose a step when we rotate those guys."
But don't be surprised if Newman becomes a focal point in the regular-season finale. Thompson likes his back's blend of power and speed, along with his game knowledge and excellent hands. Those attributes have attracted attention from USF and Louisville while leading to a solid junior season.
He accounted for 200 total yards and a touchdown in Jesuit's first win of the year — a 31-7 victory over Lakewood Ranch that Thompson called his team's best game of the year. Newman helped grind out the clock in a four-point victory over Bishop Moore two weeks ago, and he caught the winning touchdown to beat Newsome in September.
In the biggest game of the season — until next week's playoff opener against Auburndale — Newman said his goal will be the same as it has been since he was a big, powerful runner as a kid. Hit the hole, make one cut and go.
"I've never (had) lightning speed or anything," Newman said. "Just get downhill and get what you can. Live to fight another day."
Matt Baker can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @MattHomeTeam.