Lankford sizzles in Pirates victory

Lankford sizzles in Pirates victory

October 3rd, 2011 by Ward Gossett in Sports - Preps

South Pittsburg's Jajuan Lankford carries the ball against Signal Mountain.

Photo by Angela Lewis /Times Free Press.

He's just a sophomore and a first-year starter but already no one has done it better at South Pittsburg than Jajuan Lankford.

The 5-foot-11, 170-pounder broke the school's single-game rushing record with a 366-yard performance and scored six touchdowns and a two-point conversion to earn Times Free Press Player of the Week honors.

"There is a lot of upside to the guy," Pirates coach Vic Grider said. "When he develops a little more physically and figures out the little things that will make him a complete player then he could become a really special player."

The South Pittsburg standard had been 339 yards by Johnny Cisco set more than two decades ago, according to Grider.

Friday's effort was Lankford's second over the 200-yard mark. He gained 258 yards against Marion County and also had recorded three-touchdowns against the Warriors, Grundy County and Lookout Valley.

The South Pittsburg sophomore raised the bar Friday on a season-high 28 carries in the Pirates' 74-36 victory over Whitwell.

"Right now at this age he's as gifted as any running back we've had," Grider said. "Because of some injuries he has had to carry a lot of the burden. We have loaded his plate and the way he's answered the challenge is what impresses me."

The 336 yards is the state's 10th best all-time rushing effort, according to TSSAA records.

"He's a phenomenal athlete," Whitwell coach Billy Barnhart said. "He has something you can't coach -- God-given, natural ability."

Lankford averaged 13.1 yards per carry Friday night but his longest scoring run was just 52 yards.

"The kid runs hard. We'd have two or three guys all over him and he'd run right through them," Barnhart said. "People said he had great vision and ran hard and I saw him on film and saw that he was good but to see him in person, it was unbelievable. I made a point of finding him after the game and telling he had played a great game."

Lankford now has 1,107 yards for the year and could be on track to eclipse the mark of 2,230 yards last year by Raquis Hale in 13 games. At his current pace, Lankford, in 13 games, would finish with 2,398 yards.

"I hated to find out that he was a sophomore," Barnhart said. "He's a special kid with special talent. I've seen a lot of good ones and he definitely ranks up there as one of the best I've seen," Barnhart said.

The six-touchdown spurt and two-point conversion vaulted Lankford into the area scoring lead, pushing him past Signal Mountain's Tim McClendon, Bledsoe County's Brandon Smith, Boyd-Buchanan's Chase Reed and Notre Dame's Matt Reilly.

Lankford, who has now scored 116 points and is averaging 19.3 points per game, will be a key as South Pittsburg (5-1) tries to win back-to-back Class 1A state championships.

"He has obviously given them some choices at running back. He's good," said Lookout Valley coach Tony Webb, whose team surrendered 180 yards and three TDs to Lankford early in the season. "He has really made them what they are and that's pretty good. Football is important in the community. All the athletes are going to play football and there is a great competition within the schools. South Pittsburg is well-coached, there's a lot of pride in the program and obviously there's some tradition."