Rock Island football coach Ben Hammer has been pushing Michail Sudberry to shift into another gear on returns for some time.
Sudberry returned two kickoffs for touchdowns last Friday, helping preserve Rock Island leads en route to a 52-35 win over Peoria Richwoods.
Sudberry’s returns were of 88 and 85 yards.
“Basically all summer coach has been telling me to get out of second gear and put it in a different gear and that’s what I did last Friday, and it got me to the end zone,” said Sudberry, a safety and wide receiver for the Rocks who is in his third year with the varsity but first year returning kicks and punts.
“He told me to start hitting the holes faster and that’s what I did,” Sudberry said. “And it got me into the end zone”
Sudberry dropped the first kick.
“The guys blocked well for me, “he said. “I had to pick out a hole.”
The second one?
“We’ve been working on a double middle wedge,” he said. “That’s like our preference now. Basically, we’ve been getting better and better every week. I went to the middle of the hole and just took it. Nothing but grass.”
A sprinter on the track team, Sudberry was a natural for returning kicks. He likes the feeling, too, when he sees the hole.
“The first time the hole opened, I was like, ‘Yeah, I am gone,'" he said. "A bunch of energy just shot through me and I was just ready to finish the game off.”
Hammer, of course, also liked what he saw from the senior. He, too, credited the blockers.
“Michail Sudberry did a great job of hitting it at full speed,” Hammer said. “But the unsung heroes are our blockers, the two front lines in that return.
“All seven of those guys did a tremendous job. Michail hit (the hole) through his speed. And once you get him in the open, there’s not a lot of people who can catch Michail.”
It all made for quite a night for the Rocks (2-1), especially since it was the home opener.
“Any win is going to excite the guys,” Hammer said. “We had a great home crowd. I think it will boost the guys’ morale and confidence and they will fly around more at practice.”
The Rocks also got a huge boost in their running game from sophomore running back Davion Wilson, who rushed for more than 100 yards and scored three touchdowns.
“He did a great job carrying out his fake,” Hammer said. “So when he does have the ball, that gets him open a little bit. He’s just been an unselfish worker from day one. He works hard in the weight room. He works super hard in practice.
“If you had asked him before the season if he would be carrying the ball for 136 yards in Week 3, he would tell you are a crazy. Coming into the season he was our No. 3 back and he’s done a tremendous job.”
Injuries to returning senior starters Tavion Brooks and DeAngelo Horne in the first game thrust Wilson into the starting role at running back. He already was starting at linebacker.
Next up for the Rocks is a date at home against Alleman. The Pioneers are coming off of a 56-7 thrashing at the hands of Sterling, where Alleman had just 114 yards rushing on 49 carries. Quarterback Sam Mattecheck was held to minus-7 yards on nine carries and was often running for his life against the 3-0 Golden Warriors.
Those stats don’t mean much to Hammer, though. His plan to keep the Rocks’ two-game win streak and momentum going?
“For this week it’s to stop No. 9,” he said of Mattecheck. “They have a tremendously dominant athlete at quarterback.”
First win for Maroons: Moline (1-2) got its first win Friday, a 47-20 victory over Rich South, and now has a chance to even its season record in the Big Six opener Friday at Browning Field against United Township (1-2).
Moline coach Mike Morrissey said it was nice to get that first win, which featured big games from running backs Aboubacar Barry (145 yards rushing on 16 carries) and Eddie Doran (119 yards on 18).
"It’s nice when the hard work actually paid off there at the end on a Friday to get things moving in the right direction for us," Morrissey said.