All Denzel Norvell had to do was give Veyante Copeland a nudge forward.
Backfield partners on outstanding Dayton Flames peewee football teams that ignited a growing following, Norvell mentioned that it might be a good thing for Copeland to follow him to Thurgood Marshall High School, where they would rekindle their football careers together.
“When Denzel was a freshman he told me that I better join him because Thurgood was going to have a good team,” recalled Copeland.
“It meant a lot for me to join my brother and be part of the Cougar family.”
Led by Norvell and Copeland, the Cougars’ funky wing-T offense has produced another outstanding backfield and carried them into the postseason.
“It’s like a hit-and-run, powerhouse offense,” said Copeland, an outstanding junior two-way starter at running back and corner who’s gained1,348 yards and scored 18 touchdowns). “It’s hard to stop. You’ve got so much ball movement and ball fakes.”
Thurgood Marshall (9-1) opens the Division III, Region 12 playoffs at 7 p.m. on Saturday night by hosting Circleville Logan Elm (6-4) at Welcome Stadium.
Like its boys basketball program, the Cougars’ football team has been tough stuff of late. Thurgood hasn’t won less than seven games since 2009. That was the year the Cougars had four 1,000-yard backs but had to forfeit three games because of an ineligible player and missed the playoffs.
Last season was most notable for a program-defining 35-27 defeat of unbeaten Alter in a first-round playoff matchup. But as good as that was, spirits sunk just as low the next week in a 20-13 setback for Springfield Shawnee that ended with Thurgood on Shawnee’s 1-yard line.
That wasn’t an upset. Shawnee advanced to the D-III state title game.
“Losing to Shawnee left a big chip on our shoulder,” said Norvell, a senior and the team’s leading rusher (1,839 yards, 34 touchdowns).
“We want to come back this year and hopefully see Shawnee in the playoffs and beat them.”
If there is to be a Shawnee/Marshall regional final rematch, both must win two games. Shawnee (7-3) opens against Alter (8-1-1) at Fairmont on Saturday.
This season Thurgood was never threatened in winning its fifth straight City League title. The Cougars lost only at D-II playoff qualifier Winton Woods 17-13 in a Week 5 matchup. Thurgood led that game 13-0 before Woods regrouped after several delays caused by lightning.
Junior Deangelo Worthy is the other go-to Cougars’ running back. He needs just 96 yards to also surpass 1,000. Combined, the trio has rushed for 4,000-plus yards.
“I grew up with these guys,” Worthy said. “We all played peewee football together. Seeing each other excel and blocking for each other is really fun. That’s what we’ve always done.”
It’s up to sophomore quarterback Jamahl Manley to direct the misdirection run-oriented offense. A massive offensive line all but shields the smaller backs, all of whom possess breakaway speed.
Manley passes just enough to keep defenses honest, compared to seasons past. Gerry Green leads the team with 16 receptions and two scores.
Manley isn’t above pleading with coach Earl White for a more vertical game.
“Some games, I look at him and say, ‘I can throw the ball against them, coach.’”
Is that effective? “Not really,” Manley admitted.
What is effective is White’s influence on these City League players. He long ago dipped into the peewee level to establish himself with parents who were committed to their sons and their educations.
He and his staff work tirelessly throughout the year to weed out troublemakers and make Marshall a City League program to be reckoned with. Marshall has since surpassed Dunbar in City League football supremacy.
“We have a saying around here,” White said. “You don’t take things game by game or day by day, we take them hour by hour. That’s just how we do it. We never take a moment for granted. We deal with so many different issues, it’s like being in a fire and putting out blaze after blaze after blaze.”
The inner drive to return to the playoffs and win a state championship also burns deep within the Cougars.
“Our mindset is to win state,” Norvell said. “We’re not going to celebrate like we last year (after beating) Alter. We’re looking forward to winning state.”