Daniel McCants knows where the hole is going to be — his linemen tell him.
From there, the 5-foot-10, 185-pound Killeen Kangaroos junior running back gets the hand-off and goes for broke.
“I know it’s about to open up. I just listen to what the linemen do and what they say on the field; and I know where the hole’s going to be. I just run straight for it,” McCants said.
The promising junior varsity call-up from Killeen’s regional playoff run a year ago broke the program’s single-season rushing record this year with his hard-nosed attack at the line of scrimmage and his 4.3-second, 40-yard dash speed in the open field.
Killeen (7-3) plays Mansfield (6-4) tonight at 7:30 p.m. at Waxahachie’s Lumpkin Stadium in the Roos’ fifth-straight playoff appearance and first in 5A since 2001.
It is a place McCants is familiar with.
His first career 100-yard game came at Lumpkin Stadium last year when he ran for 183 yards and a touchdown on just six carries as a sophomore in Killeen’s 60-25 area-round rout of Fort Worth Arlington Seguin.
“He was down on JV and he was doing a lot of things, but we were thinking, ‘He’s on JV and he’s doing those things.’ When you bring a kid up like that and you give him a shot, and he actually performs, then you know he’s in the right place,” said Killeen running backs coach Bernard Ray.
McCants, District 8-5A’s leading rusher, ran for 1,796 yards and 18 touchdowns in the regular season, averaging 8.68 yards per carry and almost 180 yards a game.
He broke Ja’Quail Haskins’ 2010 single-season record (1,550) last week when he ran for a school- and city-record tying 317 yards in the Roos’ 63-56 loss to renewed rival Temple. He ran for more than 260 yards and all five of his rushing touchdowns in the second half to tie Travis Davis’ record set in 2002.
“He’s not a very big kid and his deal is speed. Once he breaks the line of scrimmage, he’s got the potential to take it all the way. ... Some running backs aren’t that gifted,” said longtime Killeen assistant coach Ed Blomquist. “And, I’ve coached some at Killeen High School that were really good running backs for us, but maybe didn’t have the speed that this kid has. So, he’s got a little advantage there.”
After debuting last year in the playoffs, when he ran for 321 yards and two touchdowns in three games, McCants went back to his football roots in Alabama.
The Auburn football fan, who models himself after South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore, McCants worked this offseason on his weight training, a vital component of prep football in Alabama where he was born and raised before moving to Killeen as a freshman in 2010.
“At my old school, they lift weights a lot. They lift weights and ran a lot. They worked on the fundamentals of football. Everything we did, we did it real powerful — with all speed and all power,” McCants said.
“Last year, I felt like I was scrawny and wasn’t really that big, so I couldn’t break tackles, but I could out-run people. This year, I wanted to work on getting bigger,” he added. “I don’t have to shake everybody every time. If it’s like one person, I can run through them or at least get an angle and run by them.”
Even before his varsity debut last season, McCants had caught the attention of the Killeen coaches. The Roos, though, were loaded with running backs. Killeen had four different backs with 100-yard games during the regular season and three finished the season with at least 500 rushing yards.
“We left him down on the JV team last year and it seemed as though every time he touched the ball last year, it was a touchdown. He wasn’t doing it from three or four yards, I’m talking 60, 70 yards,” Ray said. “Then, Coach (Sam) Jones and everybody realized that he was something great. We expected great things from him this year, but I will say he’s exceeded our expectations.”
McCants had two 100-yard games in the playoffs last season and ran for at least 100 in eight of 10 regular season games this season, including 200 or more in three of the last four games.
“He has an ability and he has great vision. That’s the thing, he has great vision and he’s disciplined enough to run where he’s supposed to run,” Ray said.
“That’s what makes him a different running back is that reaction. He reacts, he runs the football and he reacts. He just has that thing that you look for in running backs.”