Rushing into the thousands: 5 area players have eclipsed 1,000-yard mark; Hardy, Kees closing in on 2,000

Published 3:03 pm Wednesday, November 1, 2023

If you’ve been a faithful reader of this sports section since high school football season started, then you might have noticed some monster rushing performances on a weekly basis.

Here’s a look at the top five ground gainers from the area in 2023.

Kannon Cato, Lawrence County

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Senior, Quarterback

98 rushes, 1001 yards, 19 TDs

As the quarterback for head coach Jesse Anderson and the potent Lawrence County rushing attack, Kannon Cato is going to touch the ball on every snap. His ability to hide where the ball is headed next is part of what makes Cato and the Cougars so hard to stop.

Cato will masterfully use his torso to hide possession of the ball when faking a handoff. Once he rolls away from the defense and tucks the ball to take off, it’s already too late for the opposing defense.

Averaging 10.2 yards per carry, Cato ran for a season high 191 yards on a win over Magee and for five touchdowns in a win against Purvis.

Easton Sartin, Bogue Chitto

Senior, Running Back

138 rushes, 1,094 yards, 10 TDs

When you watch Easton Sartin take a handoff right in his stomach and then wrap both arms around the ball and lower his shoulders at the line of scrimmage, you’re watching a high school throwback that channels Larry Csonka with his style.

Sartin is a fullback by nature, but this season he’s had to fill more of a halfback role for the offense called by his head coach and father, Gareth Sartin. When the Bobcats needed a crucial short yardage conversion this season, they’ve put Sartin in a wildcat formation at the quarterback spot.

Averaging 122 yards per game, Sartin needed just nine games to reach the 1,000-yard plateau this season.

Xavier Gayten, Brookhaven High

Senior, Running Back

160 rushes, 1,477 yards, 17 TDs

Every week, Xavier Gayten gives a lesson in angles on a high school football field. Like a geometry teacher with a protractor, he’s cutting lines through opposing defenses that have learned that you’ll never stop Gayten if you are trying to run him down from behind.

When Gayten hits one of his big runs, he explodes out from the line of scrimmage. The linebackers will get caught flat footed as Gayten appears suddenly in front of them. It’s the defensive backs who must run to where Gayten is going, because if you run to where he is, he’ll be gone by the time you get there.

Gayten had some gaudy numbers all season, none better than the night he had at South Jones. In a 33-7 win, he averaged 29.3 yards per carry as he rushed for 205 yards and three touchdowns on just seven carries.

Jordyn Kees, Loyd Star

Freshman, Quarterback

245 rushes, 1,791 yards, 25 TDs

Loyd Star might have more hunting club memberships per capita than any place on earth. There’s a good chance that Jordyn Kees has hunted a deer or rabbit during his life. What Kees does on a weekly basis from his quarterback position in the Loyd Star single wing offense is hunt gaps or creases or little flickers of daylight. Running with his hand extended out towards his closest blocker, Kees stays small as his knees stay bent as his eyes scan the field ahead when a play is still developing.

Then, he starts to run away from everyone as he stands up straighter and begins to pump his arms alongside his legs. Kees might run the ball inside on 5-10 straight runs for short gains. Just as the defense begins to get lulled to those routine runs, he busts a big one to the outside.

Kees is third in the state in total yards rushing and he saved his best for last, running for a season best 280 yards last week in a 39-34 win at Franklin County in the regular season finale.

Ahmad Hardy, Lawrence County

Senior, Running Back

156 rushes, 1,836 yards, 22 TDs

Tackling Ahmad Hardy does not look to be a lot of fun. The aggressive style with which Hardy carries the ball, trying to take him on, looks like a recipe for a headache. Powerfully built with an equal measure of strength, balance, and speed, it’s been a big year for the next in line of the long, proud Hardy family tradition at Lawrence County.

Hardy has only had one game this season where he didn’t reach 100 yards rushing, that was a 47-21 win over Tylertown where he rushed for just 88 yards. He followed that up the next week with his biggest game of the season, 400 yards on 16 rushes with four touchdowns against Sumrall.

Currently No. 2 in the state in total yards gained, Hardy will attempt to top the 2,000-yard mark when his Cougars host Mendenhall in the first round of the MHSAA 4A playoffs on Friday.