By RYAN HERMAN
VALE –– Daniel Davila isn’t the fastest at his position, but he’s made a case for being one of the best.
His goal this year is to be the best.
The West Lincoln High running back officially opened his senior season when the Rebels kicked things off Thursday morning, and did so as the top returning rusher in the new Southern District 7 Athletic 2A Conference.
Davila finished his junior campaign as last season’s top rusher in the Southern Piedmont 1A/2A. His unofficial numbers of 1,816 yards and 14 touchdowns on 285 carries are all SD72A highs entering its first season. So is his 151.3 yards-per-game average. By a lot.
“He never allows himself to rest in practice,” fourth-year Rebels head coach Tom Sain said. “He’s as hard a worker as I have out here. He gives it his all 100 percent of the time.”
Davila’s gaudy 2012 rushing numbers are a product of two things, he said –– his tireless work ethic and an offensive line with the capability to move mountains.
Davila admitted there’s nothing flashy about the way he carries the football. He simply finds the hole created by his linemen, puts his head down, and runs. Really, really hard.
“It’s the big guys up front. Right there, they’re doing all the work. They should get more credit –– all the credit, actually,” he said. “The guys up front, they’re working just as hard as me, if not more. I’m just the one that runs through the hole.
“I don’t have breakaway speed, but I’m going to make that first guy miss. I’m going to put (on) a move and I’m going to go.”
The Rebels, who have made a school-record three straight trips to the state playoffs, led the old SP1A/2A in rushing last season at 272.2 yards per game behind Davila.
While Davila praised his offensive line, one of those lineman, left tackle and rising junior Andres Gonzalez, reflected the credit back to his running back.
Gonzalez said having a talented rusher to block for gives extra motivation to create running lanes.
“It’s a hard job but it’s a team effort. It’s the whole line. As a line you have to work together to get it done,” Gonzalez said. “It makes you feel better about (doing your job) knowing that you have a great running back that can get plenty of yards.”
While Davila may have been the main attraction, statistically, last year for West Lincoln, he said its success –– making the state playoffs in each of his seasons in a Rebels uniform –– has been due to an entire team coming together to achieve its goals.
Those goals this year are to keep things going, both individually and collectively.
“I’m just trying to get everybody motivated. I just want them to get up (and) want to come out here, want to hit, want to work hard,” he said. “If we work hard we’re going to get it. We need to get a playoff win.”
While the Rebels are 0-5 in their five previous trips to the state playoffs, their five new conference mates –– Bandys, Bunker Hill, Maiden, Newton-Conover and West Caldwell, along with East Lincoln and Lincolnton –– have combined for two state titles (Maiden and Newton-Conover with one apiece) and eight regional championships since 1972.
Add in East Lincoln’s state title last year and Lincolnton’s two in 1993 and 2007, and you have, historically, one tough conference.
But Davila isn’t worried about the past –– just the future.
“(The new conference is) going to be tough, but as long as we keep getting (after) it like we have –– working hard, getting our jobs right, being conditioned, everything like that –– we should be fine,” he said.
Being the top rusher in a league steeped in history like the new SD7 simply adds to Davila’s commitment.
His next closest competition, based on last season’s numbers, is Bandys’ Quainte Derr, who ran for 855 yards and 10 TDs.
“It’s a big motivation. I want to get more yards, and the guys up front, they’re going to be a big help for me because we’ve got everyone returning,” he said.
“I just try not to get big-headed. I just go and do my thing out there on the field.”
When Davila is doing his thing –– churning out yards and scoring TDs –– it makes his teammates want to do theirs.
“I think it motivates the whole team, mostly,” Gonzalez said. “You know, if you get a small hole there, he’s gone, and he’ll have plenty of yards and you’ll win plenty of games.”
Davila may have carried the Rebels statistically in 2012, but his teammates plan on carrying him in 2013.
“I think he’s a great running back, probably one of the best we’ve had,” Gonzalez said. “I think he’s one of the best ones in the state –– he is the best one in the state. Hopefully he’ll have more than 2,000 yards this year. That’s our goal for him.”
Davila’s goal is to be better than last year, both individually and as a team.
“Nothing really comes easy. You don’t expect to have it handed to you. You’ve just got to work, work, work, and that’s what we’re going to be doing,” he said.
“It’s hard work and motivation. You just have to want it. What ever team wants it the most is going to get it.”