PREP FOOTBALL: Hard worker … Speedster Quarles racking up the carries
By Mike London
MOUNT ULLA — West Rowan senior running back Jovon Quarles is known for speed for a reason.
He placed fourth in the 55-meter dash in last winter’s 3A indoor state championships, and he sprinted on West 4×200 relay teams that placed third in the state indoors and fourth outdoors.
But West doesn’t rely on running around people on the football field. The Falcons prefer to run over them.
West spreads it out more than it did in the I-formation glory days of K.P. Parks, but the program was built on a determination to be more physical than the opposition, and that won’t change as long as former Catawba offensive lineman Joe Nixon is the head coach.
“We want to force the issue,” Nixon said. “We want to run the ball. We need to run the ball, and if we can run the ball, then we can be balanced. The run opens up the pass.”
West’s power back, bowling ball Martavio Rankin, has missed the last two games with a knee injury (it’s not season-ending), and that has placed more of the ball-carrying burden on Quarles, who is not a big guy at 5-foot-9, 175 pounds.
“There’s been a lit bit more on me because Martavio is our strength back,” Quarles said. “But I like getting a lot of carries. The more carries you get, the more comfortable you feel, the better you see the holes.”
Quarles is taking on quite a workload. In five games, he’s carried 108 times. He had more than 30 carries against Mooresville and Robinson, and those were the Falcons’ two most impressive wins.
“Obviously, Jovon has tremendous speed,” Nixon said. “But he’s also learned to be happy with the singles, knowing that the home runs are going to come. He’s a guy who can turn that 3-yard gain into a 25-yard gain in a heartbeat.”
Fortunately for the Falcons, Quarles is sturdy as well as fast. He’s not only a 4.4 guy in the 40, he bench-presses 250 pounds.
Quarles’ father, also named Jovon, had a fine career for the Falcons, playing both ways as a running back and defensive back. He had six interceptions in 1998 and was regarded as the fastest player in the county. He’s now a powerfully built Navy S.E.A.L. His son looks a lot like the original Jovon did in the ’90s.
Quarles got three TDs on Friday, but West’s running game got a surprising challenge from winless South Rowan in Friday’s 35-0 victory at South’s Donnell Stadium. South committed to stopping West from running the ball.
“There was some rough going trying to run the ball against them because there were always seven or eight in the box,” Quarles said.
West hit a big pass play (Payne Stolsworth-to-Kortez Weeks) on its second snap and Quarles’ speed made it 14-0 just two minutes later.
West hasn’t thrown the ball often to Quarles in his career, so he was virtually ignored as he flared out toward the left sideline.
“I think we caught them off-guard,” Quarles said. “I was all by myself.”
The Raiders were worried a lot more about Weeks, who was running a slant that cleared out a lot of the traffic around Quarles.
“Credit that play to Coach (B.J.) Sherrill,” Nixon said. “We knew that they were going to have, at best, a linebacker covering Quarles, and he wasn’t going to be able to cover him.”
Quarles got a really easy touchdown, catching a swing pass and tearing down the left sideline to the pylon.
Quarles made it 21-0 late in the second quarter, but his second TD was a lot tougher. There were some bruising yards between the tackles as West approached the South goal line. Quarles blasted through the right side on fourth-and-goal.
“I just ran as hard as I could, and that play was well-blocked by our linemen,” Quarles said.
West hit another long pass play — again Stolsworth to Weeks — to make it 28-0 late in the first half, but, at halftime, Nixon wasn’t happy with the running game. There had been several attempts for minus yardage, and the Falcons, despite their big-play success through the air, hadn’t established anything on the ground.
But they established it in the opening minute of the second half with two zone-blocking plays that broke Quarles free to the outside. He steamed for 23 yards, and then he galloped for 25 and his third touchdown.
As Nixon said, he can turn 3 yards into 25 in a hurry.
“Basic stretch plays,” Quarles said. “Just very well-blocked. We’ve got a mostly new group of guys on the offensive line, but they’re working and they’re getting better each week. We didn’t have very many snaps in the first half, and our defense was on the field a lot. We want to run the ball more consistently, so we can give the defense some rest.”
With a 35-0 lead, West was content to just grind away at the clock. The Falcons (4-1, 3-0 SPC) didn’t throw at all, just let Quarles hammer away for bitterly contested yards before bringing in the reserves to finish things off.
Quarles finished his night with 18 carries for 105 yards. For the season, he’s accounted for 507 of West’s 630 rushing yards.
“He’s rushed for 100 in four of our five games,” Nixon pointed out.
Quarles became an important player for West’s varsity as a sophomore and had his career game that season when he rushed for 177 yards in a 35-28 win against Hickory Ridge in the final game of the regular season. That was a win that gave West a home game in the 3A playoffs. The Falcons trailed 21-7 and were in deep trouble when Quarles broke an 80-yard game-changer.
“That’s the game I remember most because I not only got a lot of yards, those were yards that the team really needed,” Quarles said. “That was a very tough game.”
Quarles enjoyed the eighth 100-yard game of his career on Friday. West is 8-0 in those games.
For his career, Quarles has rushed 382 times for 1,878 yards. He has 19 touchdowns — 15 rushing, two receiving, one on a kickoff return and one on a punt return.
Assuming good health, he’ll soon become the ninth Falcon to reach 2,000 rushing yards for his career. Four Falcons — Parks, Dinkin Miller, Wade Moore and Joe Jackson — are among the top 10 rushers in county history.
Quarles has a chance to surpass Daisean Reddick, Desmond Jackson, Ben Hampton and Lamont Smith and could finish as high as No. 5 in school history.
West hosts Carson on Friday in the county’s feature game.
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