A running back with elusive speed as a sophomore, Manatee High’s Keyon Fordham rolled his ankle on the first offensive play and had to watch the rest of the game from the sideline.
That was last season’s matchup with Sarasota Riverview, which went on to end its 11-year winless streak against the Hurricanes.
The Rams later clinched the Class 8A-District 6 championship, while the Canes settled for the district runner-up spot and a playoff berth.
But under the new playoff format, district runner-ups aren’t assured of playoff berths this season.
Never miss a local story.
And for the Canes, who frontloaded their schedule, losing big-point games to inclement weather against Lakeland and Braden River, two teams with a combined 7-1 record, this week’s game at Sarasota Riverview is especially crucial.
It’s expected to determine this year’s district champion, even though both programs have district games remaining.
For Fordham, this is a game he’s looked forward to since the ankle injury robbed him from helping the Canes during the 2016 encounter.
“We can’t wait for the ’View. It’s going to be fun,” Fordham said.
There’s a twist in 2017, though, as Fordham isn’t logging time strictly as a running back with sublime speed.
Instead, he’s made the move to quarterback and can even boom punts thanks to the athleticism that he developed at an early age.
Usually the best player on the field during his Pop Warner days with the Manatee Wildcats at G.T. Bray Park, Fordham had to adjust quickly to high school football.
“It’s a big difference,” Fordham said. “In Pop Warner, there weren’t any people really that big. And then coming to high school, they were 6-3 and 6-4, so you just had to be tough and compete the best you can.”
Last week Fordham split time at quarterback with Ryan O’Neill, and that is part of first-year Manatee head coach Yusuf Shakir’s plan.
Shakir said he likes having multiple players ready at any position. That depth only enhances the Canes for the long haul.
And the quarterback position at Manatee is steeped in athleticism. From current staff members Tracy Sanders and Brion Carnes to other past greats such as Cord Sandberg and Tommie Frazier, Manatee’s quarterback position is ripe with tradition.
“The year before me, we had a gentleman named Will Murray,” Sanders said. “Will was originally supposed to go to Oklahoma and play at Oklahoma. ... Coach (Joe) Kinnan’s philosophy was, well that was his philosophy, try to put your best athlete at quarterback and then build it around from there.”
Fordham fits the mold.
“I had a kid at (St. Petersburg) Gibbs named Jarvis West that was a lot like him,” Shakir said. “Could play just about anything.”
Aiding Fordham’s rapid progression to quarterback is his listening skills. Carnes, who is the team’s QB coach after playing at Nebraska, Northern Iowa and professionally in indoor league football, possesses vast knowledge in playing the position and will sometimes take snaps as a scout-team player to demonstrate the proper footwork, reads and how quickly the ball needs to get delivered.
That stems from Central Florida QB coach Mario Verduzco, who coached Carnes at UNI.
“He taught me a lot of the game of being a quarterback and really working on my fundamentals,” Carnes said. “And really teaching me that my feet (are) the key. The quicker the feet are, the more precise our mind and our train of thought will be. And that’s what I try to apply to Keyon and Ryan.”
Carnes can also relate to Fordham’s injury in the 2016 Sarasota Riverview game and the eagerness to play this year’s matchup.
As a junior in 2008, Carnes suffered a concussion against rival Venice that knocked him from an eventual loss.
“It’s just being able to come back and try to overcome the obstacles of what happened in the past,” Carnes said.
On Friday, the Canes and Fordham head to the Ram Bowl for another crack at Sarasota Riverview.