STOVALL: Youth is taking the place of seasoning for Union Grove

Derrick who?

Nope. You can’t say that. I won’t even try to go there.

There is no replacing a 2,105 yard rusher named Derrick Craine. The former Union Grove tailback was an invaluable cog in the Wolverines offense.

But, man, is it fun to watch a young freshman try.

That young freshman’s name is Trevor Gear. And while he’s not on a 2,000 yard pace right now, he is definitely doing his part to fill in a nice sized hole left by Craine’s departure.

And that filling is bringing Union Grove to a place where, at least early on, it seems poised to prove that last year was not a fluke.

Two weeks ago I saw Gear slice through the middle of Locust Grove’s defense. A nice outing, I figured, for a young man just getting his feet wet in the game.

But then, this past Friday against Woodland, Gear provided another 100-plus yard game, complete with another pair of touchdowns.

If this pace were to continue, Gear would be on track to churn out over 1,000 yards and 20 touchdowns. Will that necessarily happen? Chances are it will Friday when the Wolverines host a Forest Park team still finding itself, but feeling more confident after beating Morrow last week during homecoming.

Whitewater and Drew look like the toughest defenses on the schedule. And you’d think that the traditional inconsistencies that typically mar young players will show up in Gear’s game eventually.

But so far, he’s proven solid. And combined with Luke Parker, the Wolverines may have found the answer to the question that coach Paul Burgdorf asked earlier this season, when he pondered aloud, “Who will replace Derrick Craine?”

But there’s another side to it. Gear’s emergence, and Parker’s tough, speedy presence have opened up opportunities for junior quarterback Jonathan Slade to show off his increased comfortability in the passing game.

Slade is completing passes at an almost 65 percent clip. He’s passed for 469 yards and tossed five touchdowns, without having thrown a pick. As a result, the 62 points Union Grove has scored in its first two games is the biggest two game offensive output since 2007, which is also the last time the Wolverines got off to a 3-0 start.

Simply stated, the offense is running smoothly. Efficiently. And right at the center of that is the surprising performance of a 14-year-old.

What are they putting in the water these days? It seems from little league, to middle school, high school to college, younger players are showing up who are more ready-made for early success.

Even in the NFL, when’s the last time you’ve seen a trio of rookie quarterbacks dominate the game at the level of Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck, San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick and Washington’s Robert Griffin III?

More and more we see true freshman in college who are playing high level football as soon as they step foot on campus. And now it’s trickling down into the high school ranks.

It’s arguable that the next losable game on the schedule, after Whitewater, won’t be until Slade, Gear and company face Drew on Nov. 1.

By then, visions of deep playoff runs and, dare I say, a Georgia Dome appearance will be dancing in their heads. If so, much of the thanks may go to a kid who was playing eighth-grade ball 12 months ago.

Gabriel Stovall covers sports for the Henry Daily Herald newspaper. He can be reached at gstovall@henryherald.com. On Twitter? Follow him @GabrielStovall1.