This is the fifth in a series on Farmington Hills Harrison’s final football season.
Farmington Hills — Vincent Rawls was prepared to carry the ball for No. 12 Farmington Hills Harrison Friday night, knowing No. 2 tailback Ben Williams was hampered by an injury.
Rawls, a 5-foot-9, 180-pound senior, started at linebacker last year when Harrison advanced to the Division 3 state title game, but had never carried the ball before at the varsity level.
Well, Rawls got some carries in the first half, then several more during the final two quarters when Northwestern-bound cornerback / running back Rod Heard went to the bench with a groin injury.
Rawls responded with a 100-plus yard game to help Harrison to a 41-0 rout of Troy Athens, its second straight shutout by the same score to open the season.
“I hadn’t done it since freshman year, but I had a lot of trust in myself that I could get it done,” Rawls said Tuesday afternoon before practice. “It was just a lot of hard work and preparation that goes into it, but once you have that ball in your hands your body just has that vision where you just run and have a lot of fun.
“I felt we all stepped up and did what we needed to do. The guys up front did great. We’re definitely good at making game-time adjustments, and I think that’s a great strength, whether it’s changing calls or changing on the fly and that was a key against Troy Athens.”
Rawls said he was told three days before the game that Williams would be out so he would be getting some carries.
“Then, after that first touchdown I was out there, and after (Heard) got hurt, I knew I had to step up," Rawls said. "I feel we have a lot of depth, guys who can step up and get things done."
Heard rushed for 112 yards and two TDs before heading for the sidelines. Rawls, who describes himself as a "north-south runner," also rushed for 100 yards and a TD, and grabbed a Max Martin pass for another score. Martin, a first-year starter at quarterback, threw for three TDs.
Rawls enjoyed carrying the ball, but he knows his No. 1 job this week will be to slow down Ohio State-bound quarterback Dwan Mathis and No. 3 Oak Park when the teams play in an OAA White Showdown Friday at 6 at Oak Park, especially since Williams and Heard are expected back in the lineup.
Harrison defeated Oak Park 17-14 last year.
“I definitely like defense more,” said Rawls. “I’m more of a defensive-minded kid. I’m smart so I can play both ways, but defense is my spot, that’s my home. I get to control the defense. I know all the formations where it’s like clockwork. I feel like I can take on any tight end in the league.”
Rawls is looking forward to the showdown, knowing Harrison will be the underdog while going up against Mathis and junior two-way lineman Justin Rogers, who is ranked the No. 1 guard in the country for the 2020 class.
“We fear no one and we’re ready to go,” Rawls said. “It’s a big week, but we treat every week as a red-letter game so we’re preparing as hard as anyone. We know all about them, especially after last year with Dwan Mathis and all that."
Rawls is thrilled to be part of Harrison’s historic program – 13 state championships in 18 title game appearances – knowing it will come to an end with the school closing its doors for good following the 2018-19 school year.
"It’s definitely sad that Coach (John Herrington) can’t go out on his own note, but it’s not a distraction, just business as usual,” Rawls said.
Herrington – the state’s winningest coach (437-108, 49 years) – is thrilled to hear how his players are focused on the task at hand this week.
“Our outstanding player in that Athens game was Vincent Rawls,” said Herrington. “He played fullback, had to play some tailback when Rod Heard got injured, and we kept him out in the second half and Vincent played well.
"Vincent plays outside linebacker, played there all year last year, so we knew he'd be good, just didn't know he would be that good on offense."