Lumberton football was finally able to bring home the 1A state championship, and a key part of last season’s success was running back Robert Henry.
Henry, who was a two-time Mr. Football selection, ran for 1,961 yards and was responsible for 35 touchdowns last year. It goes without saying that Lumberton will miss Henry, but by no means do they lack the star power to duplicate Henry’s numbers and even have the potential to put up bigger numbers.
This year, Lumberton’s go-to running back is Shavante Toney. Toney is by no means inexperienced in the backfield. As Lumberton coach Jonathan Ladner puts it, it’s finally Toney’s opportunity to uphold the rich tradition of running back at Lumberton.
“I’m not going to say (Toney) was overshadowed, but with a guy like Robert Henry, who’d you look up and see him with 25 carries and he’d break a bunch of long runs, it would cut into other guys’ carries,” Ladner said. “Not knocking that because I enjoyed watching and doing all the great things we have done.
“Now it’s Shavonte’s turn. There is nobody else but him. He’s a different style of running back than what we have had. If you try to stack the box on him then he has enough speed to get the edge and run by you. If you try to meet him in the hole, then he has enough power and strength that he is going to topple you over and get what he wants. He’s probably a combination guy that can do what he needs to do just depending on what the defense is trying to play.”
Toney is considered to be a consistent running back that can regularly pick up four yards, but still has the capability to come up with a big a run. Last season, Toney ran for 577 yards, averaged 6.4 yards per carry and rushed for eight touchdowns. In the past two seasons, he’s combined to rush for 1,415 yards and 19 touchdowns. For Toney, the spotlight is something he has no worry about, much less ever really thought about.
“I’m not Rob, but Rob is a good player,” Toney said. “He is one of the best I have ever played with, but I’m not him. I’m myself. I can break on you or run you over. Rob could do the same, no offense to him, but I feel like I have a little more power than Rob. I think some people will underestimate me because of my size and not think I have that speed.
“People on the team know my place, and people in this city know my place. They know what to expect. I don’t really think about it and let the tradition take care of itself. We had the same goal last year and the same goal this year which is to win a state championship.”
It also helps to have quarterback Rodney Parker’s experience in the backfield, who Toney has played with since Peewee football.
“I know what he is going to do,” Parker said. “I’m just going to give him the ball, and he’s going to run on top of you, and then we’ll score.
“We might have to stay on the field a little bit longer, but we are still going to put up the same amount of points, and it’ll give our defense a break.”
Parker will also be a significant contributor in the backfield. Last season, Parker rushed for 652 yards and seven touchdowns while also throwing for 591 yards and four touchdowns, and completed 62% of his passes. For Toney, having Parker’s leadership and experience is a major confidence booster.
“(Parker) knows what to do,” Toney said. “He doesn’t make a lot of mistakes with the ball, so that makes me feel good. It definitely (makes the transition easier). I’ve been playing with him since Peewee, and we have been (close) our whole lives.”
However, not only are both Parker and Toney key on offense, but they also play major roles on the defensive side of the ball. Toney and Parker are two of the nine returning starters on defense.
Parker made 69 tackles and five tackles for loss in the secondary while coming up with an interception and two fumble recoveries. Toney, who plays linebacker, collected 72 tackles and 12.5 tackles for loss.
“Those two guys have started on defense since they were freshmen, and they understand that embracing that role on offense and everything we ask them to do on defense, they have to be in tip-top shape from Game 1,” Ladner said. “Those two guys are the embodiment of the Lumberton Panthers. Now they are the guys that everyone is looking at. They haven’t missed a workout this summer and are putting in extra work. They encourage the other guys and push them and push themselves because they understand what Lumberton football is all about.”