Running away with it

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North Babylon's football season was built around the

clock. Coach Terry Manning knew before the season he did not have a diversified

offense. But he knew he had one essential element that if used in conjunction

with the clock could help the Bulldogs go a long way.

That element was 6-2, 230-pound halfback Jason Gwaltney.

Manning and his coaching staff built a championship season around that

philosophy - get the ball to Gwaltney and control the clock. Everything North

Babylon did was designed to manage time and dictate tempo. And things worked

out beautifully.

Gwaltney, Long Island's all-time rushing and scoring leader, had a monster

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senior season with 2,880 rushing yards, 45 touchdowns and 282 points in 11

games as North Babylon rolled to the Class II Long Island title and the top of

Newsday's Large Schools poll.

For his efforts, Gwaltney became the first player in history to become a

two-time winner of the coveted Hansen Award, given to Suffolk's most

outstanding player. He was honored with the 45th Hansen Award over finalists

Darrel Young of Amityville and Andrew Miller of Floyd at the Suffolk County

Football Coaches Association dinner last night before a packed house at the

Wyndham Windwatch in Hauppauge.

During Gwaltney's acceptance speech, he hinted that his heart is in West

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Virginia and that he's likely to go there. But afterward Gwaltney said he still

will take his final recruiting visits, including a trip to Southern California

scheduled for this weekend.

"We saw every defense imaginable. And they still couldn't stop da Gauts,"

Manning said of Gwaltney. "When he's on his game, J. Gauts is going to get his.

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The confidence of the line grew all season ... We saw all the stunts, the

blitz packages, 10 or 11 men in the box - and still no one could stop us."

In an era of measuring every statistic, Gwaltney's numbers are off the

charts. Here's a smattering: 7,800 career rushing yards on 948 carries, 135

touchdowns, 828 points in 39 games.

Want a few more? Try 33 touchdowns of at least 40 yards, including 27 of at

least 50 yards.

"Everything that could be done to stop him had been done," said Garden City

coach Tom Flatley, who likened Gwaltney to NFL great Jim Brown, who played at

Manhasset. "He's strong and gets a low body lean to run people over. He also

has a unique side step and shakes off tacklers. His greatest asset could be his

balance."

Flatley got an up-close view when Gwaltney took apart Garden City on Nov.

27 in a 43-14 victory in the Class II final at Stony Brook University's LaValle

Stadium. In Gwaltney's only title game appearance, he raised the bar with a

dynamic performance

But as Flatley and others in the capacity crowd of 8,500 found out that

day, the real measure of Gwaltney was the great intangible: what he does for

his team. And no statistic can truly measure that.

How do you measure the impact of a player who makes a mediocre offensive

line become dominant? How do you put a number on a player who takes the heart

out of the opposition midway through the first quarter? How do you measure the

impact of a player who against a tough opponent in the biggest game of his life

rushed for 237 yards and scored five touchdowns, including a leaping reception

in the end zone?

On defense in the same game, he intercepted the first pass attempt of the

game and caused a fumble on a sack that was returned for a touchdown.

As phenomenal as the statistics tell you Gwaltney is, they still don't do

him justice. This is a once-in-a-generation player who took a football team on

his shoulder pads and carried it to a title.

"He's the horse we rode to the championship," said Manning, who also saw

former North Babylon halfback Ian Smart make his professional debut for the

Tampa Bay Buccaneers this week. "We'd put the opposing offense to sleep, take

them out of their rhythm and beat the crap out of the defense. He's the best

we've ever seen."

Gwaltney will play in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio on

Jan. 15. He is only the second player from Long Island to receive an invitation

in the five-year history of the game.

"He's one of the best big backs in the country," said Tom Lemming, a

renowned evaluator of prep football talent and contributor to ESPN Sports and

USA Today. "Jason picks up an awful lot of yards after initial contact. He's a

power back who also has been blessed with excellent vision and big-time moves."

Now they're lining up 11 recruiters in the box, and Gwaltney faces the

decision of a lifetime. West Virginia hopes he doesn't change direction and

accelerate away from Morgantown toward USC.

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