Terry LaBelle knew making the transition from slotback to starting running back with the Muskie football team this season would be an interesting one.
What the 6’, 175-pounder didn’t know was that he would make that transition with such relative ease, becoming NorWOSSA’s top rusher and scorer—and playing an integral part in the team’s 5-0 record so far.
And it’s a success that has opened the eyes of the Muskie coaches, who were forced to move LaBelle to running back after losing David Bond, NorWOSSA’s leading rusher from a year ago, who’s still out with a broken right tibia, and fullback Duane Turriff (graduation).
Those losses had left the Muskie backfield inexperienced heading into the regular-season opener against Kenora in early September. But head coach Bob Swing said the 17-year-old LaBelle proved his talents very quickly—and has carried that success throughout the season.
His numbers are impressive—126 carries for 1,385 yards and 14 touchdowns in just eight games on offence; and three interceptions, including one that went for a 105-yard touchdown against Sturgeon Creek (Winnipeg), when playing defence.
“We didn’t know Terry was this good," admitted Swing, in his second year as Muskie head coach. "He was in a transition phase moving from slotback to running back, and we thought that would take a while.”
In fact, LaBelle himself admitted he’s surprised by the success he’s had on the gridiron this season.
“Yeah, I’m surprised. They moved me to slot last year ’cause we had Bond but this year he’s hurt and I got the chance,” he noted.
What that chance has done is give the black-and-gold a formidable running threat to go along with a respectable passing attack—a balanced combination that both Dryden and Kenora have lacked this season.
“His running helped us a lot this season because it took pressure off our passing game, and it allowed us to work on our running plays and our bootleg play so we could make further progression next year,” said Swing.
While it can be argued the Muskies’ talented offensive line has created mammoth-sized holes for LaBelle to run through, it’s his ability to run with the ball after he hits the hole that’s been most impressive.
“He beats people easily," enthused Swing. "He makes a move on the opposition and [dekes] them out. He is a slashing-type running back that keeps a low centre of gravity and all he needs is a sliver [of room].”
“We knew Terry was a good outside runner from when he was a slotback and he got into the open field,” added backfield coach Greg Allan, a fixture on the black-and-gold coaching staff since 1986.
“He can cut so well, he has quickness, he’s elusive and he has very good speed.”
Allan also said LaBelle is a typical Muskie back in that he always runs north-south, a trait the coaching staff stresses from year to year.
“We emphasize to our backs to run forward, attack the holes, and challenge the defender, which makes it tougher to tackle them when they are going straight at them,” he explained.
And that’s exactly what LaBelle has done on a regular basis this season, making defenders miss him on his way to huge gains.
“I’m just out there following my blocks, and they [blockers] do an excellent job because once they block, they get out of the way and then I run as fast as I can,” said LaBelle, who played at running back with the Muskie ‘B’ program.
“It makes my job a lot easier when I hit the holes.”