JOHNSTON — In the world of 8-man football it’s not uncommon for a player to rattle off games where they have more than 200 yards. In fact, that’s closer to the rule than the exception.
However, at Wardlaw Academy, there’s one Patriot who’s blazing a trail unlike any before him.
According to his coach, Malik Lee has rushed for more than 3,200 yards and 43 touchdowns on a mere 140 carries this season. The 5-foot-8, 180-pound sophomore has helped changed the culture of Wardlaw Academy from an aerial attack to a ground-and-pound machine that has punched its ticket to the second round of the playoffs.
“He’s compact and he has a lot of speed,” Wardlaw Academy head coach Mark Rodgers said. “But it’s his vision that’s spectacular. His vision is natural and it’s something you can’t coach. He can see what is going on in the field better than most spectators in the stands.”
Lee led the Patriots to a 72-50 win over Charleston Collegiate in the first round of the playoffs. In the game, he had 326 yards and five touchdowns.
Thanks to that performance and his continued excellence, Lee has been chosen as the Aiken Standard Player of the Week for Week Eleven.
“I don’t look at just the stats,” the soft-spoken Lee said. “I want to do what I can to help my team win. The offensive line deserves more credit than me, they’re the ones doing the blocking and giving me room to use my speed.”
Games like this aren’t uncommon for Lee. With Wardlaw’s emphasis on the run, its thin, 17-player roster and the ability for teams to make runs and comebacks in 8-man football, he plays almost every offensive snap. For Lee, though, he doesn’t see much of a difference.
“The field is pushed in and there are less people out there, but it’s still football,” he said. “I don’t think it’s all that different.”
Lee credits Rodgers’ regime for his metamorphosis into a more complete back. Whereas before he would try to just outrun defenders, now he doesn’t mind contact and can move the pile with his strength.
“Coach has gotten me stronger and showed me a lot of things in the weight room,” he said. “...I’d rather use my speed, but I can lay a lick if needed.”
The change also has been noticed by his coach, who admires his work ethic.
“He doesn’t pay attention to the accolades and the numbers,” Rodgers said. “He’s a very humble man and he’s very gifted academically.”
The Patriots are down three offensive linemen from the beginning of the year. However, Lee has been fortunate to run behind big linemen Bennett Rhoads and Jacob Baynham. On top of that, Wardlaw Academy also boasts a plethora of fullbacks who are capable blockers as well as rushers.
“Just look at these guys,” a beaming Rodgers said while pointing out his players. “The team here is built for the pound game.”
As far as goals are concerned, Lee has a particular one in mind.
“Anything less than a state championship is a disappointment,” he said. “Due to all the work we’ve put in before and during the season, we’d be really disappointed if we didn’t win the championship.”
Rodgers believes that if Lee continues on his training regiment that he can be a third down back at the next level. Of course, with the uncharted course that his decorated tailback is on, there’s potential for far more.
“Barring injuries, the sky is the limit,” he said.
Scott Rodgers is a graduate of Alvernia University and a staff writer at the Aiken Standard.
Aiken Standard Player of the Week Winners
Reggie Preston, QB Ridge Spring-Monetta
Malcolm Stroman, QB Wagener-Salley
Jauveer Hammond, QB Strom Thurmond
Shaquez Wright, RB Silver Bluff
Nakeem Spann, RB Aiken
Dre Carr, RB Midland Valley
Jarius Jenkins, RB Williston-Elko
Trey Morgan, S/WR/QB/KR North Augusta
Adam Allen, RB South Aiken
DeVonte Pressley, RB North Augusta
Darius Hammond, RB Strom Thurmond
Malik Lee, RB Wardlaw Academy