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Karns City RB sets sights on playing full season

| Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014, 11:51 p.m.
Matt Grubba | Trib Total Media
Karns City senior running back Tristan Rhoades takes off after catching a swing pass during 7-on-7 scrimmages Tuesday, July 15, 2014, at Redbank Valley High School.

When Karns City has the football, Tristan Rhoades might be the most dangerous player on the field. The problem has been making sure he is on the field.

Rhoades was Karns City's leading rusher in 2013 despite playing in just nine of 14 games because of injury, and the senior running back hopes to fly past his numbers from last year with a complete season.

The speedy back racked up yards in large bursts last season. He posted 677 yards and seven touchdowns on just 54 carries — a 12.54 yards per carry average — and he also took three of the six passes he caught to the end zone.

“He's one of those special athletes that comes along every once in a while, and he's very smart,” Karns City coach Ed Conto said. “He has great speed, good strength and good size at 5-11 and about 185.”

The Gremlins are known for rotating through their backs, something Conto hopes to do again this season. Rhoades has no problem with that, as it will help lighten his load and divert attention away from the only one of Karns City's top six rushers from 2013 to return this year.

“It really helps everybody the way we move around. There are fresh people in there all the time,” Rhoades said. “Our No. 2 and No. 3 depth guys have skills and are able to do just as much. (Rotating players) doesn't bother me because those guys are working hard and help the team, too.”

Rhoades does have something some of his teammates don't in his knack for turning an apparent short gain into a touchdown. Only two of his 10 scores last year came from inside 10 yards, and he had a pair of touchdown runs longer than 60 yards.

But while there's no questioning the ability and speed of Rhoades, who was third in the 100-meter run at the District 9, Class AA track finals, durability is the issue.

He has yet to play every game in a varsity football season because of a variety of injuries, and during the 200 at last year's D-9 track championships, he suffered a hamstring injury. That hamstring still isn't 100 percent, which has led Conto to be judicious with Rhoades' workload during summer workouts, camp and in scrimmages.

“We didn't use him in the scrimmage last week, and we probably won't this week so that, hopefully, he'll be ready for the season,” Conto said. “Each year, we've only had him for about 50 percent of the season, but we want to have him for the whole thing. We're trying to practice smart with him because he does have such ability.”

Rhoades knows his ability to stay healthy and produce this year will play a big part in the Gremlins' bid for a third straight District 9 title. It also will be important for him personally as he hopes to be able to play next year at the college level.

The senior has been in contact with some area programs, many at the Division III level. But after a summer letting his hamstring heal, he knows a big season on the field is needed if he is to raise his profile and get the attention of larger schools.

“I've visited a couple schools like Allegheny, schools around here,” Rhoades said. “I wanted to visit Pitt this summer but didn't make it there. I would love to play at that (Division I) level or Division I-AA (now FCS).”

Rhoades' top goal, like his teammates, is to get Karns City back to and beyond the PIAA quarterfinals, which it reached the last two seasons. He knows he can go a long way toward helping that cause, which is why his top individual goal is a simple one.

“I'm going for a full season, way into the postseason. That's my goal, and I'm going for it,” Rhoades said. “I feel good right now. I'm picking it up every day, and it's getting better for the season.”

Matt Grubba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at mgrubba@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Grubba_Trib.

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