As a defensive coach at Buford since 2004, Bryant Appling has enjoyed a front row seat for the Wolves’ storied history at running back. He watched the past offensive greats in games, and his defenses went against them in practice.
He was hired just after Darius Walker graduated and starred at Notre Dame and in the NFL. Walker was followed by backs like Matt Pridemore (Duke), Demetris Murray (South Florida), Cody Getz (Air Force), Dontravious Wilson (Central Florida) and Joshua Thomas (Iowa State). In recent seasons, Buford has produced Christian Turner (Michigan), Anthony Grant (Florida State) and Derrian Brown (Texas).
“It’s been like that for a long time at Buford,” said Appling, who was promoted to head coach earlier this year. “A lot of schools have traditions of what good players came through there, and running back is definitely a position where we’ve been blessed.”
Buford is talented and deep — all three feature backs have Division I offers — at running back again this season, which has been very important as injuries have hit the position hard. Elijah Turner and Gabe Ervin carried the load early in the season, but both suffered late-season injuries (Ervin is hopeful to return Friday in the Class AAAAA semifinals at Jones County). In their place last week, sophomore Victor Venn rushed 34 times for 235 yards in a win at No. 1-ranked Carrollton.
“We have a running back tradition and everybody is learning from each other, learning from people higher than you who have been here before your time,” Venn said. “You’re waiting your turn. When it’s your turn, do the best you can do.”
That kind of patience has been a tradition for the backs.
Brown, last year’s Daily Post Offensive Player of the Year, waited for his opportunity behind Christian Turner and Grant. Brown carried the load last season, and Elijah Turner and Ervin were in secondary roles. They rose the depth chart as lead runners this year.
“We’ve always been strong at the running back spot, so we’ve always prepared for when somebody goes down, just be ready when your number’s called, stay focused, keep up the work,” said Turner, who has rushed for 782 yards (7.7 per carry) and 13 touchdowns this season. “Just do your job, do your part. You’ve got to have a strong mindset, stay focused, do your best and stay healthy. Staying healthy is the biggest part. Be ready when you’re that guy and play that (lead) role.”
Turner, a senior, has 17 college offers, citing Temple and Southern California as his early favorites. The 6-foot, 195-pounder gave Buford a strong 1-2 punch this season with Ervin, a 6-1, 195-pound junior with 13 college offers.
Ervin has rushed for 1,095 yards (7.4 per carry) and 12 TDs.
“It’s amazing being part of our (running back) corps at Buford,” Ervin said. “(Running backs) Coach (Fyrone) Davis pushes us to the limit to be successful. We strive every day to be better. I’m just so blessed to be a part of Buford’s community. I think it’s a great fit for me. I’m really proud of Victor. I’m really proud of Victor for what he did last Friday when I couldn’t play. I tagged along with ET during the season, and we got a good amount of yardage. We got the job done. Victor just waited his turn and stuff happens. He had a plan and he did what he needed to do.”
“I knew (Venn) was ready,” Turner said. “He’s been working hard all year long. We’ve just been telling him to wait your turn. You’ll be playing soon. He went out and balled out. I’m really proud of him.”
Virginia Tech and Florida International already have offered Venn, a 5-9, 164-pound speedster. His big game last Friday pushed him to 602 yards and six TDs on the season.
“(Venn) did good early (against Carrollton), so we just kept feeding him,” Appling said.
Venn has learned from Turner and Ervin, following the Buford way. All three learned from Brown last season. Brown learned from Turner and Grant. The chain keeps adding links by the season.
“If you wait your turn, you get something out of it in the future,” Ervin said. “Waiting your turn is actually worth it. You learn from others, learn from your elders. Let people older than you teach you what to do.”
The three backs have built a strong relationship this season, in addition to maintaining the Wolves’ tradition at their position. Ervin and Venn plan to continue that next season after Turner graduates.
“It’s a special place,” Turner said. “People don’t understand how special it is. It’s relationships, a brotherhood. The hard work you have to put in all year long. It’s not something you walk into and just expect to play. You have to earn everything by working hard and eventually you get your chance to play.”