Last year, Marquis Seamon flew to Ireland for a football game and returned home with a season-ending fractured wrist as his souvenir.
Father Judge’s starting junior running back watched from the sideline as his team sputtered through a disappointing four-win season. One of the few bright spots for the Crusaders was Seamon’s replacement, sophomore Samir Bullock, who exploded for a 1,000-yard season so impressive that it led him to transfer to rival Archbishop Ryan, where he wouldn’t have to split carries with Seamon, the returning incumbent.
Seamon entered the 2013 season, his senior campaign, with a clean slate. Gone were Bullock and the broken wrist, while in stepped new head coach Mike McKay with an offensive system tailor-made for the elusive running back’s skill set.
But then along came Yeedee Thaenrat, a sophomore with a name that stands out almost as much as his explosive ability on the football field. Thaenrat has been a revelation for the rebounded Crusaders, and through the season’s first seven games (five wins), his 89 carries are just one short of Seamon’s total.
Now, to answer the obvious questions: yes, Thaenrat’s sudden backfield party-crashing has been an unexpected surprise for everybody within the Judge program (including Thaenrat himself), and no, Seamon has had no problems in sharing his senior season carries with the sophomore.
That, said Seamon, would not be the Father Judge way.
“Coach Vern (defensive coordinator Vern Beale) always preaches pride,” Seamon said. “A pride, that’s a family. It’s not about what you have; it’s about what we all have. That’s just us. It’s how we are, like lions attacking. We are lions, and we are going to attack as a pride.”
That metaphor has come to wonderfully personify Judge’s season to date. Seamon spoke following the Crusaders’ enormous 28-17 win over nemesis Archbishop Ryan on Saturday at Northeast High School, one that filled those wearing light blue jerseys with championship aspirations. It was also one that eliminated the much ballyhooed Raiders (4-3 overall, 0-3 division) from playoff contention in the Catholic League AAAA Division after such a promising non-league start.
Standing directly to Seamon’s right was Thaenrat, a permanent grin plastered all over his young face. Not even an hour earlier, both left their imprints all along the outcome, much like they’ve done all season. The crucial win, coming on the heels of a 17-16 heartbreaker to La Salle the week before, one the Crusaders knew they should have had, propelled Seamon, Thaenrat and company into a titanic showdown at St. Joseph’s Prep this weekend (Saturday, 7 p.m., at Plymouth-Whitemarsh High School).
Seamon, who watched helplessly last season as Ryan snapped a six-game losing streak to Judge on this very field, carried 10 times for 39 yards, hauled in a seemingly impossible-to-grab 28-yard touchdown pass from QB Zach Carroll in the second quarter and corralled the game-clinching interception on defense.
“It’s the best feeling ever,” Seamon said of bringing the coveted homecoming trophy back to Judge for another year. “This moment was special. I wouldn’t change anything for this.”
That includes sharing the spotlight with his new partner-in-crime in Thaenrat, who was also brilliant on both sides of the ball. He carried 21 times for 139 yards, including a 42-yard TD run with 1:47 to play that buried Ryan for good; earlier in the fourth quarter, with Ryan holding a 17-14 lead and driving down the field, Thaenrat stepped in front of Raiders’ QB Mark Ostaszewski’s pass and picked it off at the Judge 21, serving as a colossal swing in the game’s momentum.
Staying calm in critical game situations is one of many lessons passed down from Seamon to Thaenrat.
“I’ve learned a lot from him,” Thaenrat said. “I look up to him. We have each other’s backs. It’s a brother thing. We’ve been competing against each other on opposite sides since little league, so I’ve always looked up to him. Now that we’re on the same team, it’s one goal and one dream, just different shoes.
“Marquis, he’s always quiet, no matter what the score is. His actions bring the team together. He’s taught me to be humble. I was the type of guy who always talked trash during a game, but now I look at him, and he’s always calm while making plays. I put that into my own game, which has made a huge impact.”
The two-back system has worked remarkably well for McKay and his staff. The numbers are startlingly similar, with Seamon carrying 90 times for 574 yards (6.4 yards per carry) and six rushing scores, with Thaenrat rushing 89 times for 689 yards (7.74 YPC) and nine tallies. Not only that, but as members of Judge’s defensive backfield, they are tied for the team lead with three interceptions each, helping lead a defense that recorded three straight shutouts from weeks 2-4 and is allowing just 11 points per game.
How has the combination worked so seamlessly?
“It’s just chemistry. He’s like my little brother,” Seamon said. “I’m proud of him and the way he’s stepped up. At first, I wasn’t really expecting too much from him, but he’s progressed in all areas. I think he can be one of the best players to ever play in the Catholic League. Right now, he’s already showing that.”
Thaenrat, who believed he had the ability to contribute on last year’s team as a freshman, almost left Judge, but the combination of Bullock’s departure, along with not wanting to abandon his teammates, compelled him to stay.
“Last year, I was upset,” he said. “I knew I could play, but I felt I didn’t get a shot at the bigger level. I took that into this year, that determination. I was going to leave, but then I said no, I can’t give up on my team. Everything from last year, all the anger, I brought that into my game. I just put everything together. But I am surprised at myself, like, ‘Wow, look at the player I am now!’ ”
The fact that Judge vanquished Bullock, who gained 106 yards on 20 carries but was kept out of the end zone, gave the rushing duo even more reason to smile. Bullock still leads the Catholic League with 1,179 yards and 12 rushing scores, but on a day when the junior never really got a chance to fully turn on the jets, two proved to be better than one.
“On the field, we’re not friends with anybody,” Seamon said when asked about his former teammate. “I think there was a little beef going on during the week, but we just proved it on the field that we’re the best team. Now, nobody can talk, except for us.”
Count McKay, a former Judge football player and 1976 graduate of the school, as one of Seamon and Thaenrat’s biggest fans.
“Marquis has been impressive since the day I met him. He is very unselfish and will do anything for us and the team,” the first-year head coach said. “I didn’t know what exactly to expect from Yeedee, just that he was an outstanding running back and a hitter on defense.
“But I believe that once they knew how we were going to try to use them, they fed off that one-two punch they bring. Marquis is the mature, work ethic, practice-right type of leader; as a result, Yeedee has become a better practice player. Now, he understands the work that needs to get done during the week. We do put both of them in roles that require a lot of responsibility. They both have responded tremendously. I watch them both and see the joy in their eyes when they and the team succeed. I’m both fortunate and proud to have them.”
Judge (5-2 overall, 1-1 division), which still has to play the Prep and Roman before the playoffs, seems to be firing on all cylinders as the regular season end draws near. The Crusaders came within a point of beating La Salle, and now fully believe they can topple the Hawks (who downed La Salle 35-28 last weekend) and really muddle the top of the division.
For Seamon and Thaenrat — and the six 100-yard rushing games between them — it’s been the ride of their lives, one they hope is only just beginning.
“I’m having the best season I’ve ever had,” Seamon said. “I’m proud of these guys. They’re playing their hearts out, working their butts off every day in practice. I wouldn’t trade them for nothing. This is a family. I’m glad I’m healthy now and we can go out there and prove to people that we’re not the same team that we were last year.”
And while Thaenrat will undoubtedly be the feature back next season after Seamon graduates, he doesn’t want his running mate to go anywhere just yet. He’s still learning too much and having too much fun. Plus, the duo still has goals they still need to accomplish, together as one.
“I’m having a blast,” he said, that grin still flashing ear-to-ear. “I’m in a great environment right now. The coaches, I love them. I love my teammates. I’m just having the time of my life right now.” ••