Kayne Roberts’ departure left many wondering whether Greenback High School had the ability to continue the success it has had on the football field over the last two years.
Losing one of the best player in program history hurt, but Roberts knew the Cherokees were in good hands. He watched Breeden Gilbert, his best friend on the team, work hard in practice and thrive in his limited touches behind him.
“I just told him ‘You and I both know that you’re going to have to do the dirty work and make things happen,’” Roberts said. “He understood that, but he also told me that he was going to make his name known.”
Gilbert made his name known on Thursday, rushing for 123 yards and three touchdowns, all of which came in the fourth quarter, as Greenback (6-1, 3-0 Region 2-1A) rallied from a 20-point deficit in the second half to defeat Coalfield, 34-33, and move into first place in the region.
“Greenback has a pretty good history of running backs going back to the mid-1980s, and Breeden Gilbert’s performance in the second half, you have to put that up there with anybody’s,” Greenback offensive coordinator Brent Kilpatrick said.
It was the physical nature of the performance that made it stand out.
The junior running back plowed over just about every would-be Coalfield tackler (7-1, 4-1) as he carried Greenback to victory. On his go-ahead 58-yard touchdown scamper in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, he ran through a pair of defenders before sprinting to the end zone.
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“If I have open room, I’m going to make a move to avoid contact and save injuries, but if not, I’m going straight through (the defender),” Gilbert said. “I love (when I’m able to do that). It’s the best feeling ever.”
“It’s so special to watch him run,” Greenback quarterback Bryce Hanley added. “I expect it now because he has done so much for us over the years. Those runs are what Breeden does.”
The same used to be said about Roberts, who rushed for 2,391 yards and 37 touchdowns as a senior to lead the Cherokees to a second consecutive Class A BlueCross Bowl in 2016 and become the first Cherokee to sign with an FBS school (North Carolina).
Roberts remembers the days of him and Gilbert going “as hard as we could” during hitting drills in practice to make each other better.
He watched that pay off on the field during his time at Greenback, so he was not surprised when he got the news of Gilbert’s outing late Thursday night.
“From what I’ve been told everybody saw at that game last night, I don’t even need to watch it,” Roberts said. “I’m going to (watch it), but just knowing that he is getting bigger and stronger, I can visualize him running the ball.
“Breeden is the definition of a beast at running back — running over somebody every play and not getting tackled by the first guy he sees. He has insane balance when he’s running the ball, so he doesn’t go down after being hit once or twice.”
If the Cherokees are to make a third straight run to the state championship, Gilbert is going to have to be a big part it.
There is no doubt from anybody that he is capable of carrying that load, just as he did against Coalfield.
“As our famous saying goes, the ceiling is the roof,” Roberts said. “The dude can go high as he wants to if he puts his mind to it.”