North Rowan’s Jaleel Webster is ‘big punch in a little box’

Published 12:00 pm Wednesday, August 23, 2017

By David Shaw

SPENCER — We can all stop talking about Jaleel Webster’s size and start talking about how good he is.

North Rowan’s senior running back stands only 5-foot-6, but don’t let that delude you. The county’s 2016 leading rusher is the perfect confluence of speed and power.

“A few people try to pick on me, but there’s no hating to it,” said Webster, a 160-pound bruiser with a Maserati engine. “Even opposing teams, they’d see me warming up and figure I’d be easy to take down. I just use it as motivation to do better.”

Webster was magnificent last season, when his rough-house runs netted him 1,466 yards and 12 touchdowns for the 11-3 Cavs. He caught fire  — and became an impossible-to-ignore performer — on the last Friday of September, exploding for a school-record 302 yards in North’s 20-14 victory at Lexington. Six weeks later, in a second-round playoff win at Brevard, he rumbled for 295 yards and scored on a 75-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter.

“If a kid’s got talent, he’s got talent,” said head coach Ben Hampton. “This kid does, but he’s a silent leader. He doesn’t want the accolades, doesn’t want the glory. He doesn’t want to be the Friday Night Hero and doesn’t want to talk to the paper. He just wants to go out and do his thing. That’s what we love about him.”

Teammate Will Anthony, a center who anchors North’s beefy offensive line, shares the love.

“He’s such a hard-nosed runner, fast but powerful,” he said. “And his cuts are so precise. If he sees even the smallest hole, he’ll hit it. If he gets an open field, he’s gone.”

As Webster’s stats soar to the top of the page, he remains firmly grounded in a team-first mindset. “I couldn’t do what I did without the offensive line working so hard,” he explained. “They created space for me.”

Just the same, Webster may deserve the team’s Rodney Dangerfield Award. Success has come in weekly droves. Respect and recognition hasn’t.

“Well, last year we had three running backs, all of them good,” he noted. “I felt like I was last-string. Even now, nobody really knows me. They just know North Rowan has a good running back — No. 24.”

Hampton, for one, disagrees. “Everybody knows about Jaleel now,” he said. “There’s no more flying-under-the-radar. We still have to block for him, every game. He may be the strongest kid in the school, pound for pound, but he can’t rest on his laurels.”

Webster — who runs the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds, benches 265 pounds and squats 465 — has no intention of resting on anything.

“I’m strong and I have speed,” he said. “This year I’m working on being a balanced back. I’ll have no problem taking the ball. I’m just gonna put on my big-boy pants and be a man about it.”

He’ll have to if he hopes to attract the attention of college recruiters.

“He may have to take a walk-on spot and prove himself, just like he’s done here,” said Hampton. “Don’t let his size fool you. He’s a big punch packed into a little box.”

This season, that’s a punch you’ll see coming.