When the smallest player on a football field rushes for 367 yards and scores seven touchdowns — in one game — people take notice.
Sean McGrew of Bellflower St. John Bosco injected himself into the conversation as one of the Southland's top running backs with his memorable performance against Corona Centennial in a regional playoff game last season.
"It was a one-of-a-kind experience," he said.
"It was mesmerizing how effective he was and how fast he was against a team known for its speed," said Coach Jason Negro. "He wasn't touched at the line, and they couldn't get him in the secondary with the angles they had. It was remarkable."
The image of McGrew running away from helpless defenders again and again as a sophomore has added expectations for his junior season.
People are asking what can McGrew do for an encore.
"I'm going to get bigger and stronger, so I can break more tackles," said the 5-foot-7, 175-pound McGrew.
On Friday night in his season opener, McGrew rushed for 179 yards and scored three touchdowns in St. John Bosco's 63-14 triumph over Honolulu St. Louis in Hawaii. Quarterback Josh Rosen passed for 252 yards and one touchdown.
St. John Bosco had the best offensive line in California last season, led by Damien Mama, now at USC. The line play figured prominently in McGrew's success, but don't doubt his skills.
Besides his breakaway speed, it's his vision and ability to prevent tacklers from getting a clean hit that keeps the yards piling up. He rushed for 2,076 yards and 21 touchdowns as a sophomore. But the most telling stats came against the toughest opponents in the playoffs.
He rushed for 167 yards against Mission Hills Alemany in a Southern Section Pac-5 semifinal, and for 137 yards against Santa Ana Mater Dei at Angel Stadium in the Pac-5 final. He made touchdown runs of 47, 17, 59, 82, 46 and nine yards and a 76-yard screen pass for a touchdown against Centennial. And in the CIF state championship Open Division bowl game against Concord De La Salle, he rushed for 148 yards.
"I only think he's going to get better," Negro said. "I think he's going to be the class of the running back position over the next couple of years. Once he gets into the secondary, you can't catch him. All he needs is a little crease."
McGrew didn't become the full-time starter until the sixth game in his sophomore year, against Santa Margarita. And he became the first running back at St. John Bosco since Negro took over in 2010 to make it through the Trinity League without getting injured. That durability adds to McGrew's importance to a St. John Bosco team that went 16-0 last season and returns All-American quarterback Rosen, a senior.
"Last year was a one-of-a-kind team," McGrew said.
McGrew, though, has two more years of high school and appears to be just getting started. St. John Bosco will try to take advantage of his versatility by using him more in the slot and throwing him swing passes and screens.
"I'm going to have to break more tackles and show people I have the moves in the open field," he said. "I'm going to show everyone I've gotten faster, and hopefully it pays off."
Follow Eric Sondheimer on Twitter @LATSondheimerCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times