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Prep football: Downhill from here

West Ranch had one key running back last season, this year it has more

Posted: August 16, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: August 16, 2012 2:00 a.m.

West Ranch senior running backs Zahr Lyttle, left, and Mark Collins will help the Wildcats make up for the loss of current University of California football player Jeff Coprich, who was a first-team All-Santa Clarita Valley running back in 2011.

It’s never easy replacing your star athlete — and it’s even harder when that athlete was an NCAA Division I quality player.

But that’s exactly what West Ranch senior running backs Mark Collins and Zahr Lyttle have been charged with this season.

After playing complementary roles to the recently graduated Jeff Coprich last season, the two are splitting time at running back and should both see plenty of playing time in 2012.

Lyttle carried the ball 31 times last season for 353 yards and scored eight touchdowns, while Collins rushed for 222 yards on 45 carries.

The duo isn’t trying to duplicate the things Coprich, who received a scholarship to play football at the University of California, could do on the field — Collins and Lyttle aren’t the shifty, methodical runners Coprich was.
But they are speedy, downhill style runners who add an element of quickness and explosiveness to the Wildcats’ offense.

“They’re different from Jeff,” head coach Sean O’Brien said. “Jeff was much more vision oriented — patient, patient, patient, go. These two are much more downhill. So yes, we have altered the way some of our offense works to suit their more downhill attacking style.”

And they’re ready for their time in the spotlight.

“It motivates both of us a lot,” Collins said. “We finally get our shot this year.”

Things have been working out well for the two during summer camp — with both Collins and Lyttle showing first-team quality play.

The Wildcats know they will have their doubters, those who think the loss of Coprich could cripple an offense that relied heavily on the running attack last season. But, O’Brien thinks those skeptics will be surprised by what the team has to offer.

”We think this loss will be less felt than people think,” he said. “(Coprich) is a Division I runner and that’s hard to replace. But at least Mark and Zahr, and we have other guys after them, we don’t think we lose several steps with them. We think we’re very, very close to what we were with Jeff, and plus there’s two of them. I don’t think that’s going to be the loss that maybe people project them to be.”

Also in West Ranch’s favor is the fact that Collins and Lyttle haven’t benefited only from their own play.

The Wildcats have refocused on passing and running, hoping to bring a more balanced attack into games that should open up running lanes that quickly dissolved over the course of 2011.

“We would like to start out more balanced, rather than be forced into balance,” O’Brien said. “We really stress that during practice. When we script out our offense we really script out an even 50-pass, 50-run thing. We don’t really have a main game and if that gets shut down we go to our secondary game. We have a game and we can modify that as we need to.”

That was an area that got the Wildcats’ offense into trouble last season, as teams started to focus on Coprich as the game went along, forcing the team to rely too heavily on then-first-year quarterback Gerrit Mouw.

Last year, Mouw struggled to catch up to the varsity level. This season, the Wildcats believe he’s ready to lead them to success.

“I’m still that way. I’m very confident,” Mouw said. “Last year, I think I was overconfident. The speed (of varsity) was much different.”

Things are quickly coming together for Mouw this summer, and Collins and Lyttle should be big beneficiaries if the 50/50 offense O’Brien expects comes to fruition.

“We have more receivers that can catch and a better core of receivers,” Lyttle said. “Teams will have to watch both (the running game and passing game).”

And Collins and Lyttle plan to use that to their advantage.


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