Clovis’ Tanner Fickling runs down the sideline for a fourth-quarter touchdown during last weeks 34-13 win over Pampa, Texas. (CNJ staff photo: Eric Kluth)
By Rick White: CNJ managing editor
Tanner Fickling is football’s version of a bodyguard.
As a fullback in the Clovis Wildcats’ run-oriented attack, the spunky senior is often called upon, with reckless disregard for his health, to escort a ball carrier through cracks and crevices in the line and to block ornery linebackers.
Last year, he helped feature back Phillip Williams gain more than 1,900 rushing yards. This season, he’s the front man for junior Brian Mead.
Fickling has embraced the taxing and often thankless job.
“There’s just something about coming through a hole and seeing all that green in front of you with only a linebacker standing in the way,” the 5-foot-9, 174-pound Fickling said Wednesday as the Wildcats prepared for Friday’s homecoming game against Highland. “If I pick him off, Brian will be able to go the distance.”
With Fickling’s help and improved offensive line play, Mead rushed for 198 yards and scored three touchdowns in last week’s 34-13 win over Pampa, Texas.
“Tanner’s going to do whatever you ask to do, no questions asked,” Clovis assistant coach Darren Kelley said, “and he’s going to do it going 100 mph.
“I’m not saying he’s going to do it right every time, but he’s going to give it everything he has.”
When he wasn’t blocking, Fickling still found time to gain nearly 600 yards of his own last season and is coming off a 96-yard, one-touchdown effort last week.
“I learned I’ve got to be more patient and wait for the hole,” said Fickling, who gained most of his yards last week in the second half.
Kelley said the Wildcats (1-1) showed improvement on both sides of the ball coming off a season-opening 7-0 loss at Mayfield.
“The best thing we did was, we were physical,” the Clovis coach said. “We’re still making mistakes, but you can’t fault the kids because they’re playing hard.”
Kelley said there are three things the Wildcats can count on Friday when they face Highland.
“They’re going to be physical. They’re going to be disciplined. And they’re going to have speed,” Kelley said.
The Hornets (1-1) are led by senior running back and cornerback Jerrell Miller, who veteran Highland coach Judge Chavez said is the fastest player he’s coach in his 17 years at the school.
He said in the spring, the 5-9, 165-pound speeder ran a 4.23 40-yard dash twice — because the coaching staff didn’t believe it the first time. In the NFL, most wide receivers and running backs run in the 4.4 to 4.5 range.
Miller rushed for 191 yards and a touchdown in last week’s 17-0 win over Albuquerque High.
“If he gets anywhere close to the secondary, there ain’t a kid in purple that is going to catch him,” Kelley said. “I don’t know if they could catch him with a motorcycle.”
However, Chavez said it doesn’t matter if he runs a 4.2 or a 10.2 if the Hornets don’t block better than they have in the first to games.
Highland, which has almost as many sophomores as seniors on its roster, has been besieged by penalties and turnovers this season.
The Hornets committed seven turnovers and 21 penalties last week.
“Hopefully, it’s just a maturity thing,” Chavez said about his young team, but if we continue to make mistakes we’re going to be in for a long night against Clovis.”
Clovis holds a decided size edge over Highland, which starts two players who weigh more than 215 pounds. In contrast, Clovis’ offensive line averages nearly 260 pounds per man.
Chavez called it a moot point.
‘We don’t match up well with anybody,” Chavez said. ‘That’s why it’s so important to do the little right for us to be successful.”
Highland at Clovis
7:30 p.m. today
at Leon Williams Stadium
Records: Highland 1-1. Clovis 1-1.
Coaches: Highland, Judge Chavez, 11th year (84-34). Clovis, Eric Roanhaus, 28th (253-88-5)
Last week: Highand beat Albuquerque High 17-0. Clovis beat Pampa, Texas, 1-1.
Last meeting: 2004, Clovis beat Highland 14-0 in the second-round of the round of the Class 5A playoffs.
Highland players to watch: Jerrell Miller, 5-9, 165, Sr., RB/CB; Jamil Wilson, 6-1, 230, Jr., TE/LB; Tim Medina, 5-10, 170, Sr., QB/DB.
By the numbers: The Hornets have seven two-way starters.
Quotable: “Playing Clovis is always a great measuring stick for us.” — Chavez