Lakota West High School senior running back David Afari saw what Fairfield’s Jutahn McClain did last year when he dominated the Greater Miami Conference in rushing yards and points.
This week, Afari will be on the same field as McClain, looking to show he can be just as dangerous to defend. West (3-1, 2-0 GMC) hosts Fairfield (4-0, 2-0 GMC) on Friday in a clash between two of the four teams who remain unbeaten in GMC play — and a showcase of the conference’s top two rushers.
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Afari ranks second behind McClain in rushing yards, sitting at 465 yards while McClain leads the conference with 689 yards rushing, but Afari’s nine touchdowns have him atop the GMC in scoring.
“I am going to try to out-play him, get more yards than him and score more touchdowns and beat Fairfield,” Afari said. “He’s good, but I think I can be better. I believe in myself. I know what I can do on the field.”
That wasn’t the case last year, but Afari isn’t the same player he was then. He’s playing in a whole new system under former Colerain coach Tom Bolden and the yards seem to be coming easier for him senior year.
Afari rushed for 639 yards and one touchdown on 161 carries in 2018, while McClain amassed 1,676 yards and 25 touchdowns on 212 attempts, but the Firebirds are getting more from their top weapon this year, especially the last two games. Afari rushed for a combined 297 yards and seven touchdowns over a pair of wins against Hamilton and Sycamore.
“He’s come a long way,” Bolden said. “I obviously wasn’t with him the previous two years, but talking to some of the coaches that were here, they mention how the steps, the maturity that he’s taken has been tremendous, not just from the football stance but how he carries himself in the community and the classroom and the hallways and things like that. It’s translated to the field, and I think that’s what’s elevated his play so much. It’s a cool story to see how he’s taken that next step.”
The 5-foot-11, 200-pound Miami University commit said his vision of the field is the biggest area of improvement since last year. Everything seems to move more slowly on the offensive line so he can make cuts easier and get to the edges, where he really excels.
Bolden attests to that, as well, but also has been impressed with Afari’s physicality.
“That vision comes with having a great understanding of what we’re doing and what we’re trying to accomplish, and I think that just opens up everything for him and he’s been able to make the right cuts,” Bolden said. “The other thing along with his vision is how he’s finishing his run. He’s been pretty darn punishing at the end of his runs — a lot of yards after contact.”
Fairfield coach Jason Krause said stopping Afari will be the focus for his defense, just like it would be any other statistical leader on other teams.
“They want to get the ball to No. 1, and he’s a good player,” Krause said. “He was good last year and the year before, and now he’s one of the better backs in the league. They want their offense to go through him, and we have to stop him. We don’t want to let him get to the edge on us. He’s got good speed, so you have to tackle him with a low center of gravity because he’ll break arm tackles. When he gets to the edge we have to get our hands on him.”
Afari said he’s motivated every week but knowing how important Friday’s game could be in terms of the playoff picture especially has him fired up to do his best for his team. The Ohio High School Athletic Association released its first computer ratings of the season Tuesday, and Fairfield ranked second in Division I, Region 4 with West right behind in third.
The top eight teams in each region at the end of the season make the playoffs.
“I’ve been trying to help my team since I’ve been here, and that’s what I’m trying to do right now,” Afari said. “We want to make the playoffs. I’ve never made the playoffs before, so I’m working really hard in practices and the games are coming easy now. This game is going to be a big one. It’s going to be one of the most important games of the year, so I have to be at my best.”
McClain will be just a little reminder of that.
“There’s no question about that because he obviously sees what Jutahn has been able to do and what he does, so he will have a little chip come Friday night, but I’m sure in retrospect, Jutahn will be the same way because they are sitting there looking at each other and one leads the rushing, the other one leads in scoring,” Bolden said. “What a great matchup. Two great teams, two great running backs. I’m sure it will motivate the defenses. It’s what’s great about high school football in Cincinnati.”
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