By Chris Teale (Photo/Chris Teale)
As a sophomore, running back Chance LeGrand’s season with the St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes football team was over before it began following a season-ending concussion that left him with short-term memory loss.
The following year, his season-ending injury curse struck again, as before he had the chance to take the field in 2015, LeGrand sprained his anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments and suffered a bone bruise in his left knee.
After a full recovery, LeGrand’s first varsity appearance for the Saints came last Friday at home against Paul VI.
He wasted no time in making an impact.
On his first carry of the game during the Saints’ first offensive possession, LeGrand gained 28 yards in a third and long situation, then gained another 24 yards in two subsequent plays to put the hosts at Paul VI’s five-yard line.
With 8:30 remaining in the first quarter, LeGrand ran for a 5-yard touchdown that put the home side up 6-0, a lead it would not relinquish all game, winning 49-27. It left the Saints’ record at 1-0 overall.
“I wasn’t surprised at all,” LeGrand said. “I feel as if the amount of conditioning we did this offseason, all the walkthroughs, all the practices, all the offensive and defensive drills, I think we were ready.”
On 16 carries, LeGrand ran for 216 yards, and found time to complete a 7-yard pass to Darnell Clement.
Elsewhere, Clement returned an interception to the end zone and had a 1-yard rushing touchdown, while senior Brandon Bartley punched in two rushing touchdowns for the Saints. And junior CJ Lyons added one rushing touchdown and one passing touchdown, caught by sophomore Charles Thomson, for the hosts.
But things didn’t go all LeGrand’s way, especially in the second quarter. On two occasions he fumbled the ball, with the first recovered by the Panthers at the Saints’ 45-yard line and the second at the Panthers’ 7 to the relief of the visitors’ defense.
LeGrand said nerves played a factor in what was new territory for him as a football player, albeit an experience done on a team with just 11 seniors.
“I’ll admit, I was freaking out on the sidelines, because I fumbled the ball, I ran off screaming,” he said. “I punched the field before I left because I had pressure on me. It’s been two years, so I was nervous. I just had to get those butterflies out in the first half. I think my second half was better than my first half, because I was ready.”
In his two years of watching from the sidelines, LeGrand said he spent time learning instead of lamenting what might have been. He said he watched film of power running backs like Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch as well as of speedier backs like Chris Johnson and Alvin Kamara.
It was all to prepare for his senior year, as he wants to combine both power and speed with the ball in his hands.
“Being injured for two years gave me time to study, watch running backs, watch blocking assignments and know what moves to make and when to make them; when to speed up, slow down, make cuts,” LeGrand said. “I don’t view it as two years of being injured. I view it as two years of preparation, to get me ready for my senior year.
“Because I think senior year is when it really counts, and setting the tone. You set an example for the younger running backs that still have time at this school. It’s just being an example and doing the things you need to do, and making it happen for the team.”
Looking ahead to the rest of the season, LeGrand said he wants to rush for at least 1,000 yards and help the Saints win the Interstate Athletic Conference title. But he knows it is about more than just his individual play.
“I know I can’t do that without my offensive line,” LeGrand said. “It’s not only keeping myself pumped up and my quarterbacks, it’s also keeping my offensive line pumped up, because I don’t want their work to go unnoticed. Every time I get back into the huddle, I’m telling them ‘Thank you.’ I’m never putting anything negative in their mind because I don’t want them to play weaker. They’re the heartbeat of the offense.”