Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Sports column

October 19, 2013

Peoples puts on a memorable showing at Mitchell Stadium

BLUEFIELD — There have been a lot of People(s) who have played at Mitchell Stadium since the first football game was played there way back in 1935.

Few have put on a performance like Steven Peoples did on Saturday.

If the recruiting trail to Galax had been a little slow prior to his 502 yards and six touchdowns — and a seventh on a fumble recovery — it won’t be any longer.

Whether or not it is a record will have to be confirmed by the VHSL. Galax film had 502, Graham had 497.

The record is 500.

Virginia Tech has shown interest in Peoples, but the Hokies could have some competition, and lots of it.

“The recruiting for him in the last two or three weeks has gone through the roof, all of a sudden,” Galax head coach Mark Dixon said. “I have been sending films for two years and all of a sudden it is like they are finally taking a glimpse at him and going ‘Oh my, he is phenomenal.”

If anyone knows running backs, it is Dixon.

An All-American offensive lineman at the University of Virginia, Dixon also played in three professional football leagues, NFL Europe, the Canadian Football League and five years with the Miami Dolphins.

When Dixon was asked to compare Peoples to someone in his past, his choice was Ricky Williams, who had a terrific college career at Texas and — and minus the well-publicized personal baggage — was also a standout performer with the New Orleans Saints and those same Dolphins.

“I have seen some running backs,” Dixon said. “I played with the Miami Dolphins too and he is a miniature version — I don’t know on how much of a larger scale — but our tailback back there was Ricky Williams.

“He is not Ricky, but he reminds me of him because it is the speed-power, the combination. That is what Ricky had and at our level that is what Steven has. He has speed and power and that is tough to deal with.

“He is a mountain of a man.”

One look at Peoples and it’s not hard to tell he’s different. The 5-foot-11, 200-pound senior has a chiseled physique and tree trunks for legs, and he can be nearly impossible to bring down.

Graham did tackle him on occasion, once even for a 1-yard loss, but not very often. Peoples scored on runs of 71, 22, 80, 80 — yes, 80 twice — 64, 45 and 27 yards— and also returned a fumble 78 yards for another touchdown.

He gained those 502 yards — according to Galax addition — on just 22 carries, an astronomical average of 22.9 yards per attempt.

It wasn’t that Graham didn’t hit on occasion, he just bounced off and kept on going. Just don’t ask Peoples to explain it.

“I have been playing running back my whole life,” Peoples said. “I don’t know what it is, I guess it is weight lifting and stuff like that, agility.”

A radio broadcaster for Galax brought a Virginia High School League record book with him on Saturday, thinking that Peoples might have a special day. .

Did he ever. How about the best day any high school running back has ever had in one game in Virginia.

“I was just coming in here hoping to get a win and play good,” Peoples said.

Good isn’t a strong enough word. Peoples had 329 yards and four touchdowns at the break, and just kept piling it on. It’s not like he had to run the ball over and over to get the record. Who ever heard of anyone averaging nearly 23 yards a carry?

The soft-spoken Peoples slowly walked off the field after the game, towel over his head, soaking in what he had just done.

“The line did incredible tonight, that was the main source of it,” said Peoples, whose brother, Donta, currently plays at Emory & Henry College. “The line got every block, got the linebackers, got up the field and made plays.”

It wasn’t just the line. Peoples hit the holes, and then used his quick feet and agility to dance past Graham defenders, find the openings and then accelerate toward the end zone.

“He is a beast,” Dixon said. “When he gets a running start at you, he is so good at making the first guy miss in the hole so you can be right there and once he shakes you then he is back at 100 percent.”

Damone Boone had held the state rushing record with an even 500 yards gained for West Springfield in 1998. The top 10 list, which runs from 427 to 500, also includes former Powell Valley, University of Virginia and NFL standout Thomas Jones, along with Appalachia’s Ed Clark — the Stonega Stallion — and Lee High’s Tyler Graham, who had 490 yards just last season.

He passed them all on this day.  Or may have. The VHSL will have to make that determination.

Either way, what a day.

“I would be shocked if he is not playing at a big time 1-A school next year,” said Mike Williams, the head coach at Graham, which has produced some pretty good running backs as well, including Super Bowl hero Ahmad Bradshaw. “He is a big time player, he whipped us every which way, it was not just him, their whole team is good...”

Peoples entered the game having run for 206 yards a game against what is arguably the toughest Group A schedule in Virginia. He finished it averaging 255.5, having run for 1,533 yards, 15 touchdowns and 12.5 yards per carry.

“He is an amazing athlete, he is the best blocker I have ever had here, he makes up for that by being the best receiver I have ever had and he makes up for that by being the most physical player I have ever had,” Dixon said.  “He is just dynamic, I can’t explain it, you just sit and watch and I am in awe, I just look at the coaches and shake my head, there were four or five times I just looked at them and shook my head.”

Dixon sees it every day. For those of us who were on hand on Saturday at Mitchell Stadium, it made a 54-7 blowout loss for the home team worth watching.

“We see it in practice, I get to see it all the time,” Dixon said. “It is interesting when you get to go to another stadium and other people see it for the first time and they are like ‘Wow, he must drive the bus because he does everything’ and he does.”

Dixon has been wondering why more college coaches haven’t been finding their way to Galax. Expect those visits to become more common.

“I don’t know, I have been shocked by it because I keep telling everybody he is the best I have seen,” Dixon said. “He is the best I have seen, I guess they are not real thrilled with evaluation or something.”

Attention coaches at Virginia Tech. Your running game needs help, why not pay a visit to Galax? Or, check out the film from this game.

And, Peoples, no matter whether it was 502 or 497 yards, will listen.

“That would be a real dream,” Peoples said.

—Brian Woodson is the sports editor for the Daily Telegraph. He encourages feedback at bwoodson@bdtonline.com

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