By Nick Snow
CUSHING, Okla. —
Cushing’s Gage Stallworth knew each time he touched the ball he was going to be compared to Dawson Myers — the Tigers’ All-State running back from a year ago.
That didn’t stop the junior, who tallied X,XXX yards and XX touchdowns this season — one of the best performances in school history.
“Dawson was a great running back,” Stallworth said. “I wasn’t trying to be like him or be better than him. I just wanted to be my own running back. My goal each time I stepped on the field was to not get tackled by the first guy that touched me.”
It was that kind of tenacity that also carried Cushing to the playoffs for the second straight year.
“He just got better and better every week,” Cushing coach Barrett Shupe said. “At first our offense wasn’t really geared to having him run the ball that much, but as the season went on we started to become more and more centered around him.”
Making big plays isn’t something new for Stallworth. A state champion and All-American wrestler, Stallworth has been making big plays since bursting on the scene at Cushing. So it came as no surprise that when the Tigers needed a big play they called on their workhorse running back
“That’s just the person he is,” Shupe said. “He was a state champion and All-American wrestler over the summer so this is nothing new. He lives for those moments and we have a lot of trust in him to carry the ball for us when we need a big play.”
“The offensive line would always joke around with me and call me Marshawn after Marshawn Lynch’s run against the Saints (in the 2011 playoffs),” Stallworth said. “It’s a great feeling to know that I’m able to rush and score that much, but a lot of credit goes to my offensive line. Without them, I can’t have those big games.”
It wasn’t always easy for Stallworth this season. Two games into the season, Stallworth — who had been playing both offense and defense — gave up his role on defense to allow him to run harder on offense.
“Honestly, we needed him to rest more,” Shupe said. “It was tough for him, playing on both sides of the ball. Fortunately we had enough depth that we were able to replace him on defense and that allowed him to be stronger on offense.”
The strategy worked out perfectly, as Cushing finished second in the district behind state runner-up Seminole thanks in large part to a healthy Stallworth.
“We knew going in that he was going to be a key for our offense,” Shupe said. “He’s a good football player and he just seemed to get better as the year went on. He’s a tough kid and I can tell you that I’m grateful that No. 24 was on our side and not playing for someone else. I’m sure a lot of coaches would love to have a kid like Gage carrying the ball for them and being the type of leader he is.”
The season may be over and Stallworth is focused on defending his wrestling state championship, but in the back of his mind, he’s already thinking about next football season.
“I had some pretty good numbers this year, but I’m hoping to put up even better stats next year,” Stallworth said. “Next season I’m going to hit the weights pretty hard and go hard in practice and hopefully it will all pay off. It’s exciting to think about — that I still have my senior year ahead of me, but even though we are losing a couple of seniors on the offensive line and our quarterback, I feel like we should be just as good next year. Our goal is to get past the first round of the playoffs.”
With Stallworth returning, that shouldn’t be a problem for the Tigers.
“I’m excited,” Shupe said. “It’s not very often that you have someone like Dawson Myers or Gage Stallworth come through our program and we’ve been lucky two of them in back-to-back years. When you know you have a talent like Gage coming back, it just makes you even more excited to start preparing for next year.”