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River Bowl XXVII: Shasta running backs, O-line work in tandem for big gains

The Shasta front five - Bladen Stankey, Kane Stankey, Aydin Gibson, Logan Thibodeau and Jason Kupono Kealiinohomoku - have paved the way for Wolves runners to rush for nearly 1,700 yards this season. Behind the O-Line are backs (middle row from left) David Webb, James Weaver, Nathan Bova, Johari Woods and (back row from left) Blake DeJesus, Charles Dietirch and Josh Akana. (Photo by Aaron Williams / Shasta County Sports)

Weaver, Woods and Bova. It sounds more like a law firm than a running back trio.

And while those three might someday become lawyers, the three are partners right now in a business that’s all about moving the chains.

James Weaver, a junior wing, Nathan Bova, a senior wing, and Johari Woods, a senior fullback, are the focal point of a Shasta High rushing attack that goes eight players deep and is sustained by an offensive line that’s been working since Spring Ball to pave the way for its cadre of weapons.

Shasta heads into River Bowl XXVII, the Tri Counties Bank Game of the Week, looking to get to .500 and make a push for a home playoff spot and perhaps a first-round bye. But before any of that happens, they know they must get past their cross-town rival Enterprise, despite the Hornets’ 0-7 record.

And while the Wolves stubbed their collective toe early in the season with losses to West Valley, Eureka, Elk Grove and Chico, the Pack believes its back after successive Eastern Athletic League wins over Pleasant Valley and Red Bluff.

It’s the past two games that might have turned the Wolves’ fortunes around, especially the 21-20 win over the Vikings. And while it took a huge fourth-quarter defensive stand and missed PV field goal to seal the victory, the Wolves point to that game as the turning point for the simple reason as they were finally all healthy again.

The following week, against winless Red Bluff, the Wolves found their stride as the firm of Weavers, Woods and Bova led an eight-man arsenal that gained more than 350 yards rushing as all eight gained more than 25 yards en route to the 49-17 win.

The backs were all quick to credit the Wolves’ O-line — consisting of right tackle Kane Stankey, right guard Bladen Stankey, center Aydin Gibson, left guard Logan Thibodeau and left tackle Jason Kupono Kealiinohomoku —  knowing the symbiotic relationship between opening holes and crossing the goal line.

And while backs have found individual success here and there along the first five games, the full-strength front five really did make things click for Shasta against PV and Red Bluff.

“There’s a chemistry with these five guys that we built starting in the spring and through the summer,” said Bladen Stankey. “We’ve known since March that we were in these roles.”

James Weaver is one of eight backs that has made noise for the Wolves behind the offensive line of Kane Stankey, Bladen Stankey, Aydin Gibson, Logan Thibodeau and Jason Kupono Kealiinohomoku. (Photo by Tony Hord / Shasta County Sports)

And they finally all got on the field together against the Vikings after Thibodeau missed two games with concussion-like symptoms and Kane Stankey missed time with knee soreness.

“When everyone’s healthy, it’s a different story,” said Kealiinohomoku, who usually goes by “Po.” “First it was Logan and then Kane and Bladen rotated for defense …”

“But once we got back together for PV, we knew we could do damage,” said Thibodeau finishing Po’s thought in a sign that maybe the big fellas really are on the same page.

And while most lineman secretly yearn for the limelight, Kane Stankey doesn’t mind the anonymity of playing in the tranches.

“The best thing about being an offensive lineman is not hearing your name; it means you did it right,” he said.

The front five all said working with such a diverse and talented crew of backs is a pleasure … even though they don’t always get to work with some of the twos and threes who might find a starring role on another team.

Fullback David Webb and wings Charles Dietrich and Blake DeJesus have each seen significant time as fill-ins for Woods and Weaver, when those two missed time against Eureka and Pleasant Valley, respectively. Wings Tate Fagan and Josh Akana also have seen time on offense despite usually lining up as starters on defense.

Shasta’s Nathan Bova takes the ball from quarterback Derek Myers in the Wolves’ 49-17 win over Red Bluff on Friday. (Photo by Tony Hord / Shasta County Sports)

Fagan and DeJesus each have speed to burn and might be the fastest backs coach JC Hunsaker has seen since the days of Seth Park in the 2016 state title run. Akana, a linebacker, has a solo carry this season, which he took 55 yards to the house after a DeJesus TD run was called back because of penalty.

Dietrich has lined up at cornerback and wing this year and earned praise for being GWB – Great Without the Ball. He blocks and carries out fakes well that are crucial to the deceptive Wing-T scheme.

Webb, meanwhile, shouldered the interior load in the Wolves’ loss at Eureka, grinding for 59 yards on 16 carries.

“We get to see those other guys on the sideline because when they’re in, we’re usually out,” Kupono said of the twos.

And while the holes don’t magically appear in the defense, the linemen — and the backs — also realize the skill and talent each of the eight backs brings to the field.

[forminator_poll id=”16654″]

Weaver — The Prodigy
320 yards rushing, 64 carries, 4 TDs; 88 yards receiving, 6 catches, 2 TDs
No one grinds harder and prepares devoutly than Weaver. He is meticulous in practice and has shown the ability to lower his shoulder and finish runs this season.
Aydin Gibson: If he finds the edge, he’s going to break it, but it’s our job to make sure he has that edge.
Nathan Bova: You can always count on James to run hard and always count on him that he knows what to do.

Woods — The Enigma
400 yards rushing, 62 carries, 4 TDs; 1 catch, 39 yards
Quirky off the field, Woods is all business when the whistle sounds. He has great feet, a nice burst of speed and lateral cuts that leave defenders chasing ghosts.
Aydin Gibson: He hits that hole so hard. It’s like a Mini-Vinnie (Smith).
David Webb: No matter what, he’s going to give you 100 percent, even if he’s dinged. He’ll get you those four yards.

Bova — The Thoroughbred
376 yards rushing, 46 carries, 5 TDs; 202 yards receiving, 11 catches 3 TDs
Fluid and smooth, Bova could be on another level had he played his junior season. Still, the senior is patient behind the pulling guards, will zip past defenders once he finds the seam and isn’t shy about finishing a run by running over a would-be tackler.
Bladen Stankey: He might have the best hands of all the running backs.
Charles Dietrich: He’s patient, follows his blockers and gets vertical.

Charles Dietrich — The Joker
139 yards rushing, 23 carries, 1 TD
When Dietrich stepped in for the injured Weaver, he opened eyes as a punishing runner who relished taking on defenders at the second and third level. A great blocker without the ball, he aids the O-Line in making things easier when his number isn’t called.
Bladen Stankey: He carries out his fakes better than anyone and blocks really, really well.
James Weaver: Charles is always going to focus on doing great things without the ball, blocking or fakes, and when he gets the ball he has the ability to get vertical.

Blake DeJesus — The Flash
134 yards rushing, 21 carries, 1 TD; 29 yards receiving, 2 catches, 1 TD
There might not be a faster player on the field than DeJesus. He rocketed down the Red Bluff sideline twice like he was shot out of a gun and though they were both called back because of penalties, no one is going to chase him down in a foot race.
Kupono Kealiinohomoku: It’s nice to know that if you do your job that he’s going to make the most of it.
Tate Fagan: He runs hard. He works hard to get on the field.

Tate Fagan — The Natural
132 yards rushing, 8 carries, 1 TD
If there’s someone who could give DeJesus a run for his money, it is Fagan. A natural athlete, Fagan makes things look effortless. Could be the featured back if not for his role as safety on defense.
Aydin Gibson: (If he were an every-down back) He could have scouts looking at him.
Akana: He never fails to impress.

David Webb — The Grinder
122 yards rushing, 37 carries, 3 TDs; 1 catch, 5 yards receiving
The proof that it’s not the size of the dog in the fight. Webb packs a punch and seems to love running between the tackles. A grinder in practice and on game day, if you need a tough two yards, he might be your guy.
Kane Stankey: I’ve never heard him complain. His head is always down and ready for the next play.
Johari Woods: Webb is a hard-working man. He may not be the biggest on the field but he acts and runs like it. He’s a good football player.

Josh Akana — The Specimen
55 yards rushing, 1 carry, 1 TD
Akana probably had Red Bluff spinning after DeJesus had two runs called back due to penalties. No worries as Akana got the ball on the next play and house a 55-yard sweep to the other side. A starting linebacker, Akana is another guy who could do damage if he were to carry the rock regularly.
Aydin Gibson: He’s got Seth (Parks) speed.
Blake DeJesus: He’s always running his hardest, he’s coachable and does everything you ask.

Johari Woods busts through the Pleasant Valley defensive line in the Wolves’ 21-20 win over the Vikings. (Photo by Tony Hord / Shasta County Sports)

RIVER BOWL COVERAGE

Aaron Williams has been involved in the North State sports scene for nearly two decades. He spent eight years as the Sports Editor for the local newspaper and another four more as the voice of high school football on the radio. Williams has coached various sports at the high school level over the past decade, most recently at Shasta High, and is also the public address announcer for the Shasta College football and basketball teams.

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