More than a decade later, Bill Dee recalls the play, opponent and circumstance.
Serious second-half deficit.
But most vividly, Dee remembers the tailback who fueled Phoebus' furious comeback on that September afternoon in 1996: Antwoine Womack.
"He had good speed, and he got faster when he went on to college," says Dee, the Phantoms' 24th-year coach. "But man, he was a great cutback runner, a slasher.
"You can work on (that) vision, but it's God-given. You can work on where they're supposed to hit the hole and stuff like that. But once they get to a certain part of the play, then their God-given ability takes over."
Such instinctive vision is what defines most great backs.
It's not speed measured by the stopwatch or size by the tape measure. No, it's much more subtle.
"I think speed is overrated when you're looking for a running back," Dee says. "Of course it's great if you have that speed where you can just tear it open in the open field. But I'd rather have a guy who knows how to run than a guy who's just pure fast."
Dee knows. He labored at offensive guard for Mansfield (Pa.) University, and he's coached more top-flight runners than most, if not all, high school coaches in these parts, none better than Womack.
Billy Hite knows, too. He played tailback at North Carolina during the early '70s and since 1978 has coached Virginia Tech's running backs, 10 of whom have been selected in the NFL draft.
"There are certain guys who can find that little crack or seam, where other guys can't find it," Hite says. "A lot of guys just get the ball and run. There's no rhyme or reason."
Truly great backs, and the Peninsula has been graced with many, from Keyes to Kirby, run with the rhyme and reason of a poet.
There is little wasted movement, especially from the waist up. They make few frivolous cuts and rarely waste yardage with extended lateral jaunts.
Each move serves a purpose. Not to say every one works. Far from it.
"They see it their own way," Virginia coach Al Groh says. "You can't overcoach them. You just have to be quiet. If you don't, all of a sudden you turn them into a thinking player. They've got to be a reactive player."
Translation: These are artists. They need space and freedom to create.
Don't mess with them.
Field is a running back's canvas
Coaches and backs say toughness and instincts are tools of the artists' trade on the gridiron.
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