Friday Night Hero: Salisbury's John Mark Petty
By David Shaw
SALISBURY - John Mark Petty looked pretty good in red this week - whether he liked it or not.
The Salisbury junior was singled out by his coaches after an above-and-beyond performance in Friday's 39-7 CCC victory against West Davidson. As the Hornets' offensive player of the week, he proudly wore a bright red jersey adorned with a number "1" in practice.
"I didn't even know it until (Monday) afternoon," Petty said during a mid-week workout. "I came out with my gold jersey on and one of the coaches told me to go back in and get the red one. They usually hand them to you ahead of time, but I had to go ask them for it. It was pretty exciting, but I'm not sure I deserved it."
Recognition for the lanky wideout, better known as a budding sharpshooter for the basketball team, has been slow arriving. Before Friday Petty had spent his first varsity season recovering from a right shoulder injury and languishing as a role player, good for thankless jobs like luring would-be tacklers away from the point of attack. That all changed this week when he morphed from a giant concern into a giant killer.
"John Mark Petty," coach Joe Pinyan insisted when questioned a few days ago. "He was all over the field. He played the game of his life. You look at all the yards we gained (306 rushing, 62 passing). Well, on a lot of those long runs, he had home-run blocks for us."
Those are defined as pivotal blocks that ensure a teammate reaches the end zone. And according to assistant coach Scott Eagle's calculation, Petty went yard three times against the Green Dragons.
"We're a run-first offense," he said. "Because of that our receivers must be able to throw blocks on the outside. And (Petty) had three of them. He would have had four but another touchdown was called back by a penalty. But that was a winning performance."
Petty's name doesn't scream "Great Run Blocker" but his game certainly did. The Hornets had 11 plays from scrimmage that gained at least 10 yards - including touchdown runs that stretched 46, 32 and 27 yards. Petty, at 6-foot-4 and 175 pounds, went deep on each of them.
"Three? I thought I only had one," he said. "I'm not a big fan of blocking. That's how I dislocated my shoulder in the first game of the season. I ended up missing the next two games."
Teammate Ben Ritchie, a rugged senior tight end, understands Petty's distaste for blocking. "He always stands up straight," he said. "And he fires off the ball slow. But somehow, he makes his blocks."
So while quarterback Brian Bauk and running back Justin Ruffin put up glamourous numbers, Petty settled for his first two receptions of the season and first TD catch. It came on a 13-yard pass from Bauk in the second quarter and pushed the Hornets' lead to 13-0.
"I lined up as the tight end on that play," Petty recalled. "And actually, it was a play we hadn't run in practice, a backside route. I wasn't sure if I was supposed to block or run a route. I was thinking, 'Do I block or do I run?' I don't like blocking so I just decided to run the route and got open."
By halftime, Salisbury had a 26-0 lead and a blowout was imminent. But even when its engine sputtered in the third period, Petty bailed the Hornets out with a couple of booming punts - one 48 and the other 41 yards.
"I was a soccer goalie in middle school, " he said.
Ritchie, for one, thinks Petty is simply more resourceful than scary. "He doesn't want to be the superstar," he said. "He just wants to go make plays."
Petty did, whether he liked it or not.