HAMPTON — What a three-week performance by Phillip Waters.
Over the past three Friday nights, the Hampton running back set a school record for 332 rushing yards against Cosby, ripped off another 275 yards against Unicoi County and totaled 323 all-purpose yards and six touchdowns against Hancock County.
When asked about putting up such incredible numbers, Waters gives the praise to God and his teammates.
“The Lord is blessed in everything,” said. Waters, who has already piled up nearly 900 rushing yards for the season “The blocking backs and offensive linemen have been a big part in it.
“In week one, our offensive line wasn’t very strong. Now, I would put our offensive line up against anybody and I think they would come out winning.”
The thanking God first is no accident.
From a young age, Waters’ parents instilled how important it is to thank God and to share his faith. Now, he has been put in a role of team leader on a Bulldog squad off to a 4-0 start and ranked No. 4 in the latest Tennessee Class 2A poll.
Not one to usually heap praise on current players, head coach Mike Lunsford calls this year’s running back trio of Waters, Justin Adkins and Tyler Trusler the best he’s ever coached. About Waters, Lunsford sees a God-given talent which few players possess.
“He’s got a lot of speed and he does a good job of getting into the open field,” Lunsford said. “He’s a dang, good open-field runner. He’s not the best four-yard runner I’ve ever had, but he’s really good in the open field.”
That’s not to say Waters isn’t tough in the short-yardage situations.
Lunsford credited Waters’ time on the Bulldogs’ junior varsity team for getting into the habits of running harder and putting his head down to get the tough yards. The coach said the Bulldogs will need more of that from the 6-foot-2, 190-pound senior as the season wears on.
“It can’t be all about those 70-yard runs,” Lunsford said. “You have to get those tough yards too. Especially when you’re matched up with teams which have as good athletes as you do, then you have to grind it out and play tough.”
During his performance at Unicoi County, it wasn’t one of the long runs which most impressed the head coach. Instead, it was a three-yard gain where Waters had to break three tackles just to get positive yards on the play.
Making Waters and the other backs harder to contain is the Bulldogs’ emerging passing game. Mainly using short passes like quick slants and dump offs, quarterback Lane Smith is completing about 80 percent of his throws right now.
Included in that and in Waters’ overall numbers against Hancock County was a 51-yard, catch-and-run which went for a touchdown.
Although his offensive performance garners the most attention, Waters also brings versatility to the defense. He mostly lines up at weak-side linebacker, although he has played some middle linebacker and often at safety in the Cover-4.
“He’s done a pretty good job,” Lunsford said. “We lost Eddie (Olvera) in the second game and he did a lot of those things for us. Phillip has come on to become a little more versatile. He’s not our best tackler, but he has the speed to run people down where we can stop them.”
Waters, who had a 65-yard interception return for a touchdown against Hancock, explained that playing different positions present different challenges. At linebacker, he can go all out being aggressive, while roaming in the backfield requires a little more thinking.
Like offense, Waters gives the praise for his defensive success to his teammates.
“When you’re playing middle linebacker or outside linebacker, you’re always coming up on the ball,” he said. “Playing safety, you have to think about the ball first before run, so it’s a little hard getting used to, going back and forth. “We’re lucky because Lane (Smith) and Mark (Ailport) are back there, and they’re a couple of best defensive backs around. They do a good job tracking on the ball.”