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Chris Elliott: Runner's instinct makes backs special

Published Oct. 1 at 12:33 a.m. | Last updated Oct. 1 at 12:50 a.m.

Runner's instinct can't be taught. There are plenty of football players who fly through a gap, follow blockers and pick up a big gain — thanks to the system. Those guys are fun to watch, too.

But the backs that have the speed, agility, power and most importantly the runner's instinct to react and create big gains out of small openings make football exciting.

To Markus Phox, the dual-threat Collegiate quarterback whose legs (107 rushing yards per game) and arm (154 passing yards per game) have helped the Spartans to a 3-1 record, there's no greater feeling than breaking the big run.

Phox and teammate Raymond Taylor, whose big runs have led to 463 yards (8.3-yard average)talked this week about the steps to breaking a big gain.

"It's exciting at the beginning because it's like, 'Here we go,' because you know that feeling before it happens," Phox said with Taylor nodding in agreement. "Both of us have done it so many times before."

Phox said he loves watching Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson and Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick make plays with their legs when passing options are closed. He's tried to model his game after them.

"You can feel the pressure when something breaks down, so you instinctively start running," Phox said. "Your heart starts beating and those instincts kick in. It seems like it kind of happens in a flash. It's either you're going to get tackled for a loss or you run and make something happen."

Taylor doesn't have the luxury of surprise when it comes to breaking a big run, though he tries to hide behind blockers until he finds a crease and can get into the open field. When he's one-on-one against the secondary, he doesn't necessarily rely on speed.

"I don't think I'm that fast. I'm just quick. I use cuts and reads," Taylor said. "Knowing how they want to tackle you and using your instincts to react faster than they can is what makes you a good open-field runner. I want to make them pause in their tracks so I can get at an angle where they can't catch me anymore."

Trinity Academy's Morgan Burns is another running back that has had great success breaking big gains. He's rushed for 832 yards and averages 15.7 yards per carry. When he finds daylight, he said he never really knows what he's going to do.

"If I'm running full speed, I'm going to try and run them over," Burns said. "If they have an angle, I might try to juke them. It just kind of comes naturally to me. I don't really think a whole lot, it just kind of comes to me."

Burns, who hangs out with Rose Hill running back LaQua Mayes and Heights running back Dreamius Smith, says that all three playmakers agree that you have to be special to be a consistent big-play guy.

"It just comes naturally," Burns said. "When we get the ball, we know exactly what to do with it. It's something that I don't think coaches can teach."

Check Chris Elliott's high school sports blog at blogs.varsitykansas.com. Reach him at 316-268-6296 or celliott@wichitaeagle.com.