WARNER ROBINS -- The goal was hefty, and it didn’t come from the running back.
And running backs tend to be about hefty goals.
In this case, the plan from the offensive line coach was for the running back to have a 2,000-yard season.
For all of the running and pounding that Northside has done through the years, only two Eagles have cracked that mark: Tijuan Green in 2007 and Leonard Goolsby nine years earlier.
But that’s what Northside offensive line coach Mark Stewart had in mind, that his big bodies up front would team with tailback Willie Jordan for at least 2,000 yards.
“It was important to me to give the line a goal,” said Stewart, a former Northside offensive lineman himself. “That’s just something important to me, for backs to do good. That means we’ve done our job.”
Jordan’s top goal was different.
“I wasn’t focused on yards or anything like that,” he said. “I was just focused on a state championship, because we’ve been coming so close. That’s really what my main focus was, a state championship.”
Jordan managed 1,067 yards and 19 touchdowns in 2013 despite not being completely healthy all that much.
“Last year, almost the entire second half of the season, he had two bum ankles and was really sidelined, missed a game or two,” head coach Kevin Kinsler said. “He couldn’t really ever get on track.”
And the Eagles had the versatile Glenn Smith, who had 905 yards as a junior and 1,118 as a senior, so Northside had a solid one-two punch.
But Jordan was the only proven punch coming back for a season that began with questions.
“We knew ... that we were going to have to lean on the offensive line and win with it,” offensive coordinator Chad Alligood said. “The quarterback situation ... we didn’t know exactly who that was going to be.”
And then starter Jurmon Weaver went down with an appendicitis a few days before the season opener, putting inexperienced Tobias Oliver in the lineup.
The Northside plan -- run first, second and maybe third -- wouldn’t change, but how well the Eagles would execute that plan, program confidence aside, was a bit of a mystery.
“The way that it has turned out, I don’t think any of us could have imagined how many yards we’ve rushed for,” Alligood said. “Our goal was to rush for 250 yards a game, and we’re averaging 330.”
And they’ve run to the GHSA Class AAAAA semifinals, hosting Allatoona on Friday at Mercer University Stadium.
Jordan, a 6-foot-1, 235-pounder, was proven at tailback, but the Eagles didn’t know where other yards would come from. Jamaal Joyner, whose 150 yards were third last year, suffered a season-ending injury early in the season opener against North Cobb.
Fresh-faced sophomore Oliver has matured faster than anybody could have expected and has run for 725 yards and nine touchdowns.
Sitting 61 yards from 2,000? Jordan. Standing only 97 yards from the program single-season rush total? Jordan. Three rushing touchdowns from the Northside record in that category? Jordan. And 180 yards from second on the program’s all-time rushing list? Jordan.
On a slow day, Jordan smiles a lot. Cheeks stretch when he starts talking about the numbers he didn’t think about in August.
“Toward the middle of the season, when I noticed my capabilities, when I started getting to that 1,000, and it kept going up, that’s when I started thinking about it a little,” he said. “Two weeks ago, I started looking it up. ... All I can do is smile about it.”
Jordan probably would have entered the playoffs having cracked that magic yardage number, but Northside hammered so many teams that starters were sitting for many second halves and fourth quarters. He had seven carries against Greenbrier and six against Cross Creek.
“Willie would go up there and play fullback the entire game and block,” Alligood said, adding that Jordan doesn’t need to carry the ball a lot to be happy -- although his 257 carries are 115 more than Smith last year. “He would do all that. He just wants Northside to win.”
At the heart of it all is the group overseen by Stewart and Kelvin McDavis, another former Northside lineman. That duo has taken two prospective Division I tackles -- Brandon Sandifer and Quentin Stanford -- as well as an undersized center, underrated guard and a sophomore guard -- the trio of Trey Scott, Tyler Dunn and Caleb Kelly -- and their backups and turned in a monster season.
“The guys up front? Coach Stewart and Coach McDavis have done unbelievable job with those guys in demanding that they do it right every down,” Alligood said. “We knew we’d have to be disciplined, and be satisfied with those 9-, 10-, 11-, 12-play drives. Our kids have bought into that.”
The line has kept Oliver upright and healthy, allowing the sophomore’s confidence to grow to the point where he all but took over games in the second half against Warner Robins, Houston County and Dalton, among others.
There’s nothing fancy about the plan that has worked so well, a little better than expected when all the parts were fit together.
“The big thing is they have to count on one another,” Stewart said. “My big thing is don’t let your partner down. Don’t let the guy to the left and to the right down. Play with love for your partners.”
That affection isn’t just up front.
“They just wear people out,” Jordan said. “I always say I got the best line in the state. This line, I love them.”
Rank name total year
1. Tijuan Green 2,035 2007
2. Leonard Goolsby 2,008 1998
3. Willie Jordan 1,939 2014
4. Byron Hunter 1,852 2005
5. Greg Manson 1,825 1994
1. Greg Manson 29 1994
1. Leonard Goolsby 29 1998
1. Tijuan Green 29 2007
4. Willie Jordan 28 2014
Career Rushing Yards
Senior season in parentheses
1. Tijuan Green 3,649 (2007)
2. Greg Manson 3,330 (1994)
3. Willie Jordan 3,151 (2014)
4. Leonard Goolsby 3,122 (1998)
5. Sheldon Hogan 2,794 (1997)
Career Rushing TDs
1. Greg Manson 52 (1994)
2. Tijuan Green 50 (2007)
2. Willie Jordan 50 (2014)
38.2 points is fifth
330.7 yards per game is first
425.3 yards per game is first
Note: Stats date back to 1992.