JuTahn McClain has made a big jump to a major role in Fairfield High School’s football offense.
How big? Well, he’s a sophomore who didn’t get to play as a freshman because of a broken collarbone.
“It’s my first high school season, so I wasn’t really expecting anything like what I’ve gotten,” said McClain, the leading rusher for an Indians squad that will travel to St. Xavier on Friday night for a Division I, Region 4 playoff opener. “(But) I’m hard working. I never give up on a play. It’s 110 percent every down.”
McClain is a dual threat for Fairfield (6-4) as a running back and receiver, totaling 705 yards on 92 carries (a healthy 7.7-yard average) with seven touchdowns. He’s also caught 13 balls for 201 yards and two TDs.
A transfer from Winton Woods midway through the 2016-17 school year, McClain said the change has been beneficial for him.
“I felt like I could start here brand new and make something big happen,” he said.
Indians coach Jason Krause knew McClain would have some big-play potential after watching him finish sixth (along with Josh Hayes, Adrien Givens and Joseph Hayes) in the 400-meter relay during last spring’s Division I state track meet.
“He was also a long jumper who went well over 20 feet,” Krause said. “We knew that he was going to be a guy that would have to touch the ball for us. He’s an explosive kid, a high-character kid. He doesn’t say much. He just does his job.”
McClain is a natural running back who’s played that position since his youth days. But senior Taimar Boykin figured to be Fairfield’s primary runner this year, so to get McClain on the field, the plan was to use him as a receiver.
Boykin then suffered a knee injury during the summer and went on to miss three of the first four games. And McClain took off in the backfield.
McClain sat out the Week 6 game against Sycamore with a groin injury, and Boykin started to re-assert himself at running back.
Boykin has 545 yards and seven touchdowns on 102 carries — 470 of those yards have come in the last five weeks.
“Every weekend, we’d be like, ‘How do we get them both on the field and get both touches?’ ” Krause said. “The last couple weeks, we’ve been in more two-back stuff to do that. The easiest way to get them the ball is to hand it to them.”
Said McClain, “Anything that benefits the team, I’m cool with it.”
Krause said Boykin and McClain are something of a thunder-and-lightning combination.
“JuTahn is faster, much faster,” the FHS coach said. “When he hits a crease, he can go 80 yards. When Taimar hits a crease, he’s going to go 30. But Taimar is going to break tackles and stiff-arm people and run through tackles. JuTahn’s not going to do that. He’s going to run away from tackles.
“Taimar brings a little bit more meat and strength in our pass protection. but JuTahn brings that guy that can catch the ball out of the backfield. Having that skill set is what led to him being a slot or a receiver at times.”
McClain said he’s having fun preparing for his first playoff game, which is hardly an easy task. St. X is 9-1 and the No. 1 seed in Region 4.
The Bombers knocked Fairfield out of the postseason with a 35-14 first-round decision and went on to win the D-I state championship last year. St. X finished 10-5 after a .500 regular season.
“They probably just think it’s going to be an easy win, but us Indians, we’re not going out like that,” McClain said. “Coach Krause told us (they were) 5-5 and went to state last year. We’re 6-4 … we can do the same thing. We just look at them as another team.”
What: Division I, Region 4 quarterfinal, Fairfield (6-4) at St. Xavier (9-1), 7:30 p.m.
Where: Ballaban Field, 600 W. North Bend Road, Springfield Township
Fairfield playoff history: 5-7 in eight appearances (1985, 1986, 1999, 2000, 2005, 2013, 2015, 2016), winning a state title in 1986
St. Xavier playoff history: 41-20 in 23 appearances (1981, 1987, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016), winning state titles in 2005, 2007 and 2016