He has rushed for 963 yards and 23 touchdowns, but Virgil Smalls' career as a high school fullback almost ended the day it started.
Smalls was a freshman at Goose Creek High School in 2006 and weighed 227 pounds when he approached coach Chuck Reedy about wanting a tryout in the Gators' backfield.
"Coach said, 'Whoa. You're too big to play fullback,' Smalls recalled. "I told coach to give me a chance. I'd show him I could play this position. I just went out there and ran with the football."
Four years later, Smalls is still running. The senior will showcase his size -- 5-11, 260 pounds -- and talent Friday night when the Gators host Northwestern in a Division II-AAAA state semifinal. The showdown has the potential to be the game of the year in South Carolina. Northwestern and Goose Creek both enter with 13-0 records.
Both enter with offensive firepower. Goose Creek averages 43.1 points per game, while the Trojans average 41.2. That's where the similarities end. How the teams rack up yardage and points is a stark contrast. Northwestern rides the arm of Justin Worley, who has 4,788 yards passing and three state records, including 56 touchdown passes in the season. Goose Creek relies on the legs of a stable of running backs to chew time off the clock and wear down defenses.
And that's where Smalls comes into the picture. He must run the ball, move the chains and keep Worley and Co. off the field.
"Virgil is a guy who can impact a football game," Reedy said of Smalls, who averages 5.8 yards per carry. "He's a guy who can get three or four yards every time he touches the football. He wears defenses down. He's hard to tackle. As the game progresses, he gets stronger."
That was most evident in the epic 64-57 triple overtime victory against Summerville. Smalls had five touchdowns and was the difference as the Gators pounded the football. Summerville took a eight-point lead in the second overtime, but Smalls scored on a 4-yard run and a two-point conversion to tie the score. He then scored from 10 yards out to preserve the Gators' perfect record.
"He's got very, very good feet," Reedy said. "He's got good hands and he's very athletic. He not just a big guy. He's very thick, very strong. I said it before and people think I'm crazy, but you could put him in an NFL locker room and he'd fit in. He looks like (Jerome) Bettis. He's that built."
Smalls is one of five Goose Creek players who have rushed for at least 400 yards. Speedster Jerome Jordan has 1,597 yards, Smalls has 953, quarterback Jaquan Marsh has 778 and another big back, Mike Myers, has 459. Caleb Kinlaw, the Freshman Flash, has 455 yards and is averaging 13.8 yards per carry.
"The running backs, we always have the mindset to get the job done," Smalls said. "We're set on making the plays to help this team. This team is really put together, and we're really close. That's what makes everything so special."
The winner of Friday's game gets its ticket punched for a trip to Columbia to play in the Dec. 3 state championship game against the winner of the North Augusta-Greenwood game.
"Northwestern, that is going to be a tough game," Smalls said. "We're going to have to pull it out and play Goose Creek football. We have to establish the run."
High School Football
Who: Northwestern (13-0) at Goose Creek (13-0)
What: Division II-AAAA state semifinal
When: 7:30 p.m., Friday
Where: Gibson Stadium