By Joseph Santoliquito

Philadelphia, PA (CBS) — Jerry Lanier is one of those hidden treasures. The 5-foot-10, 180-pound Academy Park senior tailback needed a little tough love to get going his junior year, and this season, he’s among the best running backs in Southeastern Pennsylvania.

In two games, Lanier has rushed for 438 yards in leading the Knights to a 2-0 record and an early frontrunner toward winning the PIAA Class AAA District 1 championship.

Of course it’s early, but if Lanier can keep on churning out huge games like he has so far, count on Academy Park, under nine-year coach Jason Vosheski, to make the district playoffs for a fifth-straight year.

The major reason why is a player that originally filled a stopgap role and has since blossomed into something special.

“With Jerry, going into last season, we didn’t have a set running back,” Vosheski recalled. “We had some injuries in the preseason and Jerry started by attrition. We had an idea how good Jerry would be, but as a sophomore, there were questions about his commitment. He would show up when he wanted to to lift, typical sophomore stuff. Jerry made a nice mature step last year and that’s carried over into this year. He’s a very likable kid. He’s always been a likable kid. His early issues stemmed from more a lack of maturity and commitment than anything else.

“He’s bigger now than he was a year ago. Jerry is 99-percent there in becoming the player I think he can be. He is one of the smartest football players on our team; he gets the game. He’s who we’re going to ride pretty much. He’s the best back that I’ve ever coached, period, at the high school level. It’s hard to judge other kids from other schools, with different offenses and different schemes. But Jerry has to be mentioned with the other top backs in the area.”

Lanier just needed a little nudging to get there. It started when he began investing in himself.

“I had to grow up a lot,” Lanier admits. “When I was a sophomore, I used to get on the coaches nerves a lot. I used to play around. Coach Vosheski told me I have to grow up; he told me I act like a baby. That changed it. I think I’m a student of the game. I’m trying to be one of the best in the state.

“I want more and this team wants more. We want to win the district title, which is something no Academy Park has ever done. It’s an honor to do that and I think we could do it. We should have done it last year. I think we can make a state run.”

Episcopal Academy Keeps Rolling

Episcopal Academy has the longest current winning streak in Southeastern Pennsylvania. The Churchmen will put their 12-game run on the line this Friday night against Delaware state champion Caravel Academy at 7 p.m. at Episcopal.

Coach Todd Fairlie has done a nice job transitioning from last year’s senior-laden team, when the Churchmen won their first outright Inter-Academic League title since 1982, before Fairlie was born.

“The initial thought is we were a much different team this year; we have a lot of talented kids back, and we’ve surrounded them with a bunch of talented young kids,” Fairlie said. “Last year we won with defense and a quarterback that was as good as you can ask for. Our goal is to get close to that point and it’s going to take some weeks to get there.

“This year we’re trying to find a new identity running the ball. The message we’re sending the kids is that we are the team everyone is coming after. This group has a lot to follow after last year. They take pride in defending the Inter-Ac title. But it is different [than last year] and we tell our kids don’t wait for something to happen—make it happen, create your own legacy.”

Fairlie is relying on tailback Dee Barlee, a 5-9, 205-pound sophomore (think a high school version of Earl Campbell), and senior running backs Anthony Feliziani and Cody Russell. Junior quarterback Ryan Wayland has stepped in nicely.

“The goal is to wear people down in the fourth quarter,” Fairlie said.

Joseph Santoliquito is a contributing sports blogger for CBS Philly.

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