They met in the middle.
No more than 3 miles separate the campuses of St. Augustine’s and Shaw. Last week, senior running backs Marquise Grizzle and Roderick Davenport II split the difference.
In a few days, the two will begin their final charges toward their respective school’s all-time rushing records. But between the sizzling preseason practices, Grizzle, the elusive running back from Shaw, and Davenport, his downhill, powerful counterpart from St. Aug’s, took a moment to celebrate their accomplishments. They’ve anticipated this for years, and now their moment has arrived.
“We’ve balled since our freshman year,” said Davenport, seated next to Grizzle at The News & Observer’s downtown office. “My freshman year I had 11 touchdowns, he had (the) most yards. He was grinding.”
If it seems like Davenport is hyper-aware of Grizzle’s accomplishments, it’s because the limited distance between the schools creates an inherent competition that goes both ways.
“It’s a lot of motivation,” Grizzle said, “especially (being) right down the road from each other.”
2,965 Marquise Grizzle’s career rushing total
3,298 Raymond Williams’ Shaw record
But the laughter and easy-flowing conversation between them suggests there’s also a mutual admiration. Davenport and Grizzle met at the CIAA media day, but their knowledge of each other’s games goes far beyond that encounter.
2,182 Roderick Davenport’s career rushing total
2,747 Walter Sanders’ St. Augustine’s record
At 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, Davenport sees himself as a downhill, one-cut runner. Grizzle, at just 5-7, 180 pounds, said he gets more comparisons to Chris Johnson. Combine their skills, and you create the all-around complete back, and so, the two devour game film of the other in hopes of picking up new tricks.
“He’s a bad boy,” Davenport said.
“Got to respect someone who does something nice,” Grizzle said.
As they each approach their respective school record, they’ll do so with different mentalities. Davenport wants to obliterate it; Grizzle is trying not to think about it.
Davenport, who has rushed for 2,182 career yards, got the nod for this year’s preseason honors after his junior season earned him all-conference and all-region honors. The St. Aug’s running back followed a 451-yard sophomore campaign with 1,133 yards, six touchdowns and 4.31 yards per carry as a junior.
He’ll look to make an even bigger jump this year: Davenport said he is aiming for 2,000 yards and the Harlon Hill Trophy, the Division II equivalent of the Heisman. He knows St. Aug’s current record holder, Walter Sanders, got a shot with the Baltimore Ravens, and Davenport is working to put himself in that position.
He needs just 566 yards to break Sanders’ mark of 2,747. But Davenport isn’t concerned with set the record. He wants to put it out of reach.
“Got to,” Davenport said. “Got to. Cause I don’t want anyone to break this for like 10 years.”
Grizzle, who has 2,965 career rushing yards, likely would have passed Raymond Williams’ school record last year, but an injury derailed his season. After rushing for 1,276 yards and 12 touchdowns in 10 games as a sophomore, Grizzle’s output fell to fewer than 800 yards in 2014. In turn, the all-conference and all-American honors he grabbed in 2013 weren’t there this preseason. And after watching film all off-season, Grizzle declared he was ready to make some new highlights.
“I’ve got a little something to prove,” Grizzle said with a laugh.
As he approaches Williams’ record of 3,298 yards, Grizzle said he hopes he can ignore the mark until after the season. Considering how close he is, that won’t be easy.
“I was like, ‘What record? What are we talking about?’” Grizzle said. “(Shaw coach Robert Massey) was like, ‘You're 330 yards from the all-time record. You can get that in one game.’”
Both should be record-breakers by they time they meet again, Nov. 7 in the final regular season game of the season, perhaps their final college game.
After both teams went 3-7 in 2014, there’s no guarantee either will appear in CIAA championship game. But the rushing records, in all likelihood, will have long been surpassed. And so, regardless of the result, Davenport and Grizzle will jog to the 50-yard line.
“We might have to bob and weave,” Grizzle said, “but we’re going to meet up. We’re gonna find each other somewhere in the riot.”
One last meeting in the middle. This time, even sweeter.
DiLalla: 919-829-0835; @AricDiLalla