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Gregory carving up defenses for Trojans
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Gregory carving up defenses for Trojans

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MAROA — The left sleeve of Deondre Gregory's practice jersey is tattered, shredded and hanging on by a thread.

And for the better part of the season, that's exactly how he's left opposing defenses.

Maroa-Forsyth's senior running back has been nearly unstoppable all season on his way to an Illinois High School Football Coaches Associated All-State selection, running for 1,502 yards and 28 touchdowns on 141 carries, averaging 10.65 yards per carry.

One-third of that total has come in three Class 2A postseason games, where Gregory has 570 yards and 12 TDs, ahead of Maroa's semifinal game at Shelbyville at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.

But the red-hot streak dates back further than the start of the playoffs. It actually started with a Week 6 drubbing of Athens — which plays Tuscola in a Class 1A semifinal.

He hasn't let up since.

Including the Athens game, the 5-foot-8, 165-pound Gregory has rushed for 991 yards and 24 touchdowns in his last seven games.

“When we started clicking as a team was when everybody's numbers started to rise,” Gregory said. “We came out that game and we showed what we were capable of and we haven't looked back since.”

It isn't the first hot streak Gregory has been on, but he admitted previous streaks have been overshadowed by gaudy numbers from other Trojans.

Now his numbers are popping out and he's become the circled name on everybody's scouting report.

“It has been pretty special for D,” Maroa coach, and offensive coordinator, Josh Jostes said. “He's only got 140 carries and 1,500 yards, so the offensive coordinator is not doing a very good job of getting him the ball.”

It doesn't hurt that Gregory runs behind a bigger-than-normal offensive line.

The Trojans' average lineman stands at 6-feet, 227 pounds and takes pride in creating space in the run game.

The only problem is, they miss the show their senior leader puts on.

“Oh man, it's fun,” lineman Murtaza Jatoi said of blocking for Gregory. “Honestly, we don't get to see a lot of the things he does obviously because we've got our own guy to worry about. But watching it back on highlights and seeing what you've opened up and helped him to do is really cool stuff.”

Last season, a smaller version of the Trojans took advantage of having speed outside for runs down the sidelines.

Now they focus on running up the middle. It's a treat for Gregory and the linemen.

They like to hit people and he likes to run downhill, into the teeth of a defense. In fact, he strives on breaking the first would-be-tackler.

And when he breaks to the second level, that's when the fun begins.

“We just like to get the box taken care of and then Deondre gets up to safeties and corners and usually makes them look bad,” Jatoi said.

After splitting the workload with Jaxson Nelson last season, it's Gregory's show and he's blossomed into a star.

It's no secret that other teams key in on him. That's when he tells his teammates that his time to shine has quickly turned to their time to shine.

“I just make sure my line knows, like, just bring it every play,” Gregory said. “I definitely tell the other kids like Aaron (Inda), Kameron (Boline) and (Benner), like, 'They're going to fly a lot with me this game. Just be ready to make plays.' They do. They make plays.”

On the same tattered sleeve Gregory wears during practice while he's bouncing around Walter Boyd Field is his heart. He's the emotional leader for Maroa-Forsyth — fun when he needs to be and harsh when the situation warrants it.

When he takes a rare breather during practice and gets summoned back in, there's a pep to his step when he sprints on the field, jumping and playfully shouting at his teammates.

A fun practice leads to a good practice, and a good practice leads to a practice in Week 13 while other schools are gearing up for winter sports.

“You definitely have to keep your team up and keep everybody in a good mood and a positive mood all the time,” Gregory said. “If you have a positive mood in practice then you'll have a good practice and it carries to the game.

“We've had great weeks of practice for the past couple of weeks and the points and wins have shown that.”

But last Saturday, in a Class 2A quarterfinal game at West Hancock, that jovial attitude turned serious.

With the Trojans trailing 16-0 at halftime, Gregory wasn't going to let his senior season end quite yet.

He knew all his team needed to do was find the end zone once and they would be off to the races.

Once became twice, and twice became three times — all by Gregory — and that became a second consecutive semifinal appearance.

“He's a leader of the team,” Jostes said. “You should have heard him at halftime. He was on our team saying, 'This isn't going to be our last day.'"

If this is the end of his football career, he wants it to end on his terms. After falling short in the Class 2A state final game last season, Gregory doesn't want to run into anything short of a trip to DeKalb for a chance to bring the first-place trophy home.

“I'm not trying to end my season too soon," Gregory said. "I want to end my season the way we want it to end and that's in the big game. I'm trying to do whatever I can possible to make sure we're in a good position to win."

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