STOCKTON — The original plan was for Nicky Batteate to get a handful of carries and exploit his speed by lining up in the slot for a few passes.
When Deven Cannon had to withdraw from the 36th Lions All-Star Football Classic, that plan was tossed and Batteate became a featured tailback.
"Pound for pound, the kid's as good as any player we have out here," said coach Dennis Stubbs, whose South squad is hoping to snap a six-year losing streak tonight. "He's fast, moves well and likes to run."
The Oakdale High graduate should get plenty of opportunities tonight when the South meets the North at the University of the Pacific. The North won 27-21 last year, stretching it win streak to six years.
Stubbs' plan for ending the streak was to make heavy use of Cannon — the explosive Johansen back was The Bee's Player of the Year after rushing for 2,054 yards and 26 TDs — to keep his offense moving.
Cannon, however, is receiving a $2,000 academic scholarship in Pasadena tonight. His absence leaves the South thin at tailback, with just Batteate and Hilmar's Hugh Ewing.
"They told me I'd probably be in there for 3½ quarters, so I'm excited," said Batteate, who had 2,677 yards rushing 50 receptions and 34 TDs the last two years. "We're using some single-back, we ran that at Oakdale, and I like that it allows you to see the field."
Of course, it also allows the defense to focus on one back.
"If it's a run, there's no hiding who will run the ball," he said. "Because you're lining up eight yards back, though, you can get a good view of the field. That lets you see where the holes are opening up."
The 5-foot-10, 180-pounder averaged 16 carries a game for Oakdale, and the Mustangs won two Valley Oak League titles and a Sac-Joaquin Section championship during his two seasons.
"Football's a real big deal in Oakdale and expectations are always high," he said "We expect to win every year. That motivates you to work hard."
While primarily a tailback at Oakdale, Batteate occasionally shifted to the slot and became a receiver. He caught 36 passes for 512 yards and eight TDs as a junior, a mix of short passes and downfield routes.
"I ran some deep posts out of the slot," said Batteate, one of the region's top sprinters. "Running the ball, though, is about juking, making guys miss as they come at you."
Batteate's most memorable play of 2008 was a 30-yard TD run against Central Valley.
"They chopped our linemen and I jumped over a big pile," he said. "I got past the safety, then the cornerback came up. I made one, two, three moves and then got in the end zone.
"There are faster guys in a straight line, but I think I do a good job using my speed and juking together. I've been a running back since I was seven, so I've had a lot of experience making people miss."