Back in the early 2000s, the New York Giants boasted a backfield of the powerful Ron Dayne and the speedy and shifty Tiki Barber. Due to their running styles, the duo picked up the nickname “Thunder and Lightning.”
Citrus head football coach McKinley Franklin likes to think his offense presents a similar problem for opposing defenses.
“Years ago the New York Giants had thunder and lightning. That’s kind of what we have right now,” Franklin said. “Colton McNeely, I’ve yet to see just one person take him down. Colton, it’s going to take three to four guys to tackle this guy. And yet he still keeps his feet moving and keeps going.
“Delonzo Washington also has that ability to make people have to gang tackle him. I’ve seen guys in desperation facemask him and this kid rips their hand away from his facemask and keeps running. But the speed that he has – and he’s not even fully developed yet – so when he gets fully developed, you’re really going to have something between he and Colton as we continue to go on.”
After a limited role on offense as a freshman, McNeely had a breakout campaign last year, rushing for 1,201 yards and six touchdowns, with seven 100-yard rushing games. His bruising running style led to an average of 150.1 yards per game and 8 yards per carry.
“I knew I had to step up my sophomore year, being a captain for the team,” McNeely said. “So I stepped up for the team and put everything on the line for them.”
Washington is enjoying a similar breakout sophomore season. After being removed from the team last season due to disciplinary reasons, the Hurricane has come back focused and strong, with 613 rushing yards and three touchdowns in four games. He is averaging 153.3 yards per game and an incredible 10.4 yards per carry.
“Delonzo, I’ve been watching him for a few years now. He’s just got raw talent. He’s not even developed yet,” Franklin said. “A lot people say he’s the greatest thing in world. And he is great. He’s very good. When he really develops, when he adjusts to the speed of the game and gets bigger, stronger and faster, the things I see from him right now, he will probably be one of the best running backs ever to leave Citrus High School.”
Washington appreciated those comments from his coach.
“It means a lot. A lot of people want me to transfer schools and they think I can’t make it out of Citrus. So I’m looking to prove them wrong,” he said. “I made a mistake my freshman year. I wish I hadn’t done it, but that’s how it went down. I had to bounce back this year.”
And bounce back he has. In fact, even Washington is a little amazed at the start of his varsity career.
“I’m surprised how it’s gone. My first time on varsity ball,” he said. “Still getting used to the speed of big boy ball. Still developing.”
Washington said he doesn’t really have a certain style or anyone he models his game after.
“I’m just being me. Nobody but myself,” he said.
Washington’s emergence has cut down on McNeely’s production – he still has 354 rushing yards and five touchdowns and 55 receiving yards and another score – but the Hurricane junior is happy to share the backfield spotlight.
“I’m definitely happy that I can focus more on our defense now,” he said. “I think I can go to college for linebacker. I think I can go for both positions, but more for linebacker.”
Although he doesn’t carry the ball as much as last season, McNeely is far from getting a breather in games. He’s still on the field most of the time, including on defense, where he’s leading the Hurricanes with 25 tackles and also has a pair of sacks.
“Colton doesn’t get a break, because he’s our defensive leader. He has that knack to find the football. He has a knack to play the game. He’s going to go places,” Franklin said.
“As far as him being thankful for help, he’s glad that there’s help there, but he knows he’s not getting a break.”
Despite their different styles of running the ball, Franklin said McNeely and Washington both provide one of the most important results you want out of your running back.
“They are a little different, but both of them give you the same result that you want, and that’s keeping the sticks moving,” he said.
The next chance for both running backs to show off their talents is Friday night at home against bitter rival Crystal River.
“We’re just going into the game, focus on everything we got told to do and try our best to win,” McNeely said.