Riverside Military Academy quarterback Shad Dabney knew he was going to score a touchdown before the ball was even snapped.
Dabney’s Eagles were tied with Johnson with only a minute left in the game when Riverside Military assistant coach Jacob Smith dialed up an inside run for Dabney on a QB keeper. Dabney saw the Eagles had the advantage immediately when the two teams got up to the line.
“Right before the play, I told the center, I told (Lauren) Wylie, ‘If you move an inch inside, I’m going to score,’” he said. “I was going to run over the linebacker. My running back filled in. It was just a hole. I saw it, and I just ran and dove.”
Dabney said his eyes were closed as he was diving toward the right pylon, extending the ball as far out in front of him as he could.
“When I opened my eyes, people were around me with their hands up,” Dabney said. “I realized then it was game.”
The game-winning touchdown plunge was one of 17 carries for Dabney on the day, as he picked up 288 rushing yards and three touchdowns on the ground to go along with 4 of 7 passing for 82 yards with a pair of scores and an interception. He also registered one reception for 51 yards, a performance good enough to make him this week’s Times Player of the Week.
It was the type of game that Riverside Military coach Nick Garrett expects to be happening a lot more frequently down the stretch of the season now that Dabney has taken over as the Eagles’ fulltime quarterback.
“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, (Dabney) is the best athlete in Hall County, arguably in the state of Georgia,” Garrett said. “Pretty much anywhere you put him, he’s going to have success.”
Dabney’s athleticism is only part of what makes him such a dangerous offensive weapon.
Though he’s always been as fast and agile as anyone else on the field, he said his understanding of the game has grown significantly this year as he’s been asked to take on a larger role in his junior season. Rather than getting overwhelmed with the extra work, Dabney has taken it as a positive.
“I’m learning how to see things before they happen, reading on the fly, being more physical, taking more hits,” he said. “I think it’s actually been good. It’s making me enjoy football a little bit more.”
Apart from increased touches, Dabney has also been asked to take on more responsibility from a leadership standpoint.
He was named a team captain before the start of the season, a rarity for a junior at Riverside Military. So far, according to Garrett, Dabney’s energy has done wonders for the team’s game-day confidence.
“Obviously he’s an exceptional football player, but we also want him to be a transformational leader, a very enthusiastic leader where he does it in a way where he can remain competitive and challenge people, but also encourage people at the same time,” Garrett said. “That’s what we’ve really been focusing on. It’s really been working out for us.”
Dabney has felt the difference as well.
He had always felt more comfortable on the basketball court, but Dabney’s successful start to this football season has given him a new belief in himself. His big day against Johnson — a higher classification school that beat the Eagles last season — was just another boost to his confidence.
“Seeing myself grow and develop into as good an athlete at football, it just makes me believe more, makes me want to go harder and keep competing,” Dabney said. “I’ve got a chip on my shoulder to prove that I’m the best player in Hall County, if not the state. That’s all it is, just confidence.”