Manatee offense makes you pick your poison

Manatee High’s prolific offense leaves no doubt about its game plan: Pick your poison.

It’s a testament to the theory that when injuries occur you never know what is going to happen. Next man up means different things to different teams.

When running back Josh Booker was hurt early in the season it looked like Manatee’s offense was going to suffer a drop in production, and stress would be put on the Hurricanes’ maligned defense.

It turned out to be a blessing in disguise that has resulted in benefits with high dividends.

Keyon Fordham got healthy and has turned out to be a highly productive running back, giving the Canes explosive speed.

But the best may yet to come and it goes back to Booker.

Either way, pick your poison: Fordham or Booker. And if they are stopped, opponents still have to deal with A.C. Colagiovanni and Tarique Milton, the highly touted quarterback-receiver tandem who lead the area in passing and receiving.

Booker got hurt in the second game of the season and played sparingly afterwards until the past two games, though his workload is now down. The junior running back says he is about 80 percent healthy, and still is dealing with a high ankle sprain.

No longer required to carry a full load at running back, Manatee head coach John Booth decided to try Booker at inside linebacker to give his defense a much-needed boost of physicality and athleticism. He played three series there in the last game against Palm Harbor and made a positive impact.

“After the bye week we kind of been transforming him over to defense. He has played it in the past,” Booth said. “We moved Josh to linebacker to bring some physicality to that side of the ball and utilize his athleticism there. He is still going to play some running back, but he is a tremendous athlete and physical player so we want to try and use that on the defensive side.”

In scrimmages, Booker showed his skills by how fast he was able to get into the offensive backfield and use his physicality and speed to bring down the runner.

If opponents are hoping they might see less of Booker on offense, they are in for a disappointment. Booth said he wants to split the reps about equally between the two, which is sweet music to Booker, who sees himself as a running back first.

“I feel OK. I did this switch to help the defense a little bit, but I still like running the ball,” Booker said. “If we share the load it’s all right, anything for the team. People look at Keyon and they see his speed, he can shake and can get on the outside. I am just going to punish them.”

Booth says both of them bring complex problems that defenses cannot be easily solved.

“There is maybe a misconception on both those guys. Keyon is a physical runner with speed, who doesn’t go down easily. Josh is deceptively fast so they bring a great difference in style of play,” Booth said. “It’s tough to prepare for both. Josh is a physical runner and excellent pass blocker. Keyon is a threat to take it at any given time.”

This is all new to Fordham, who didn’t expect to be getting so much work when the season started and after he missed the first three games, and got only one carry in the fourth because of an injury.

“I am very surprised about how I’ve done since I came back from my injury. I didn’t think I would do this well,” Fordham said.”I’ve just been practicing hard and paying attention to detail. Coach James Booth, the running back coach, has helped me a lot with studying film and the plays. And I am thankful to the offensive line. They’ve done a great job opening the holes for me.”

Fordham has gained 396 yards on 22 carries with seven touchdowns. Booker has 365 yards on 39 carries with four touchdowns, but has faced the tougher opponents earlier in the season. The defense has come on strong, outscoring its three districts opponents by a 52-8 average.