Clayton Valley Charter High running back Joe Protheroe has bolted through many giant holes in a record-setting season.
There's so much room to run, coach Tim Murphy explains, because the big guys up front like blocking for a guy such as Protheroe.
"The thing about him is he's so humble," said Murphy, who's in his first year at Clayton Valley. "Joe keeps getting the credit, but his O-line is doing a pretty good job for him. He keeps giving the credit back, so the O-line really cares about blocking for him."
Protheroe and the Clayton Valley offense have set multiple school records this season but are still seeking the most important one. The top-seeded Eagles (11-1) can earn the first section title in program history with a victory Friday over No. 2 Rancho Cotate-Rohnert Park in the North Coast Section Division II final. Kickoff is 7 p.m. at Diablo Valley College.
Priority No. 1 for the Cougars (13-0) will be slowing down Protheroe and the Eagles' running game. At 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds, Protheroe is in his fourth year as a varsity running back but has more yards this season than the past three combined.
He has thrived in Murphy's offense, a shotgun double-wing, to the tune of 2,779 rushing yards and 31 touchdowns.
Protheroe said it couldn't have been done without his offensive line -- right tight end Spencer Wraa, right tackle Logan Bangert, right guard Brenden Crabbe, center Justin Rogers, left guard Dakohta Cramer, left tackle Max Connor and left tight end Dylan Jue.
"Our linemen really stepped it up since last year, they've made me shine basically," Protheroe said. "No one ever mentions the O-line in the newspaper, but I think they deserve way more credit than they get. They're the reason I got most of my yards, basically all of them."
The big guys have helped Protheroe break just about every school rushing record imaginable and attract interest from schools like San Jose State and Fresno State. Even Oregon stopped by. His only offer so far is from Sacramento State.
In addition to his exploits on offense, Protheroe also plays free safety every other series and has served as the team's emotional leader.
"When we're down or tied he really gets emotional, and the kids respond to it because he doesn't do that very often," Murphy said.
A Protheroe pep talk could be needed Friday against the unbeaten Cougars.
And with a win, Clayton Valley could be doing something few of them thought possible only a few months ago.
"In June, Coach Murphy said we were all going to get fitted for rings on December 3rd, we all thought he was crazy," Protheroe said. "Now we have a chance to do that."
Regional game outlook: It's not too far-fetched to think the East Bay could send four teams to the inaugural Northern California regional games next weekend.
Of course, three of them still need to qualify.
De La Salle, James Logan, Clayton Valley and El Cerrito would all receive heavy consideration for the regional games by winning a NCS title this weekend. McClymonds has already met the selection criteria (winning a section championship) and is one of three top teams vying for two slots in Division IV.
De La Salle, the three-time defending Open Division state champion, plays Logan for the NCS Division I title Saturday. A victory would all but guarantee the Spartans' spot in the NorCal Open Division game.
Should Logan snap De La Salle's 234-game unbeaten streak against Northern California teams, the Colts would likely be selected for the Open or Division I game on the strength of that win alone.
NCS champions in Division II and III are also considered heavy favorites to receive invitations for regional contests. Clayton Valley needs to beat Rancho Cotate while El Cerrito must get past Marin Catholic.
Eligible teams will learn their fate Sunday when commissioners from the 10 California sections meet to select the pairings. They'll chose 20 teams -- 10 from the north and 10 from the south -- for games in five divisions using this criteria: Win-loss record, strength of schedule, head-to-head results, common opponents and, according to the CIF, "Suitability to represent the State in a Bowl Championship with regards to Pursuing Victory with Honor and acceptable standards of sportsmanship."
The regional games will be played next Friday and Saturday with the winners then advancing to the state bowl games in Carson the following weekend. Locations for the regional games will also be determined Sunday, though the CIF has already announced that it plans to use Sacramento State for at least two games.