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Staff photo by Troy Stolt / Dalton running back Maurice Howard (1) breaks a tackle during the football game between Ridgeland and Dalton high schools on Friday, Sept. 11, 2020 in Rossville, Georgia.

DALTON, Ga. — The 2020 season was supposed to be the time to shine for Maurice Howard.

The Dalton High School senior running back had patiently bided his time as the understudy to current Georgia Tech freshman Jahmyr Gibbs the past two seasons, something head coach Matt Land had praised leading up to the season.

However, a week one blowout loss to Calhoun in which he carried only six times, cast doubt on how productive the run game could be, especially considering the Catamounts were breaking in five new offensive line starters.

Those doubts, it seems, were unfounded as Dalton rebounded with a 52-7 rout of Ridgeland, producing nearly 400 yards rushing. Howard was responsible for 230 of those yards on just 12 carries, scoring three times and producing several jaw-dropping runs.

For his effort the 6-foot, 210-pounder is this week's Times Free Press player of the week.

"The great thing about Maurice is he's a competitor," Land said. "He wants to be depended on and we want him to be depended on at the level we depended on Jahmyr. Friday he got some productive runs early on, and that kind of lathered him up. The first game we never found a rhythm or groove. Against Ridgeland we did."

Land says college recruiters are well aware of Howard's ability and that once he was able to put a few games on film the offers would come. Friday's film should help, most notably a 75-yard touchdown run against an athletic Ridgeland defense in which he was stopped trying to get around right end, spun back left, made one cut and flew down the left side for the score.

"Oh, he's a pretty runner," Land said. "He's got all the tools, speed, vision and power. We didn't need him to run 25 times the other night, but we're going to have to depend on that moving forward and it's something he's never had to do."

A major part of Howard's success in week two vs. week one was the marked improvement up front. Land admits the lack of scrimmage time set back the development of the line, but that after the Calhoun game the Cats and veteran line coach Bill Mayo were able to break down the good and the bad and move forward.

Land had high praise for the line, a group that includes Nick Cowart, Ty Thurman, Haden Sumner, Riley Souther, Grant Haleverson, Isaac Medina, Charlie Patrick and Demian Vital.

"We didn't have a single lineman who played a meaningful snap last year, so after losing our scrimmages we basically had to use the Calhoun and Ridgeland games as experiments to find out what we could do up front," Land said. "We're rotating a bunch of guys and the key is we found five that can block at the same time. All of those guys have skill sets, but none of them are complete offensive linemen, so they have to work together."

Dalton will have two weeks to continue to work before its next game against Region 5-AAAAAA favorite Carrollton.

Contact Lindsey Young at lyoung@timesfreepress.com; follow on Twitter @youngsports22

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Staff photo by Troy Stolt / Dalton running back Maurice Howard (1) rushes the ball during the football game between Ridgeland and Dalton high schools on Friday, Sept. 11, 2020 in Rossville, Georgia.
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Staff photo by Troy Stolt / Dalton running back Maurice Howard (1) rushes the ball during the football game between Ridgeland and Dalton high schools on Friday, Sept. 11, 2020 in Rossville, Georgia.
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