Running back lineage a Cambridge staple

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CAMBRIDGE, N.Y. — The names read like a who's who of Cambridge football over the past quarter-century.

Sakima Grimes. Sam Luke. Alex Bell. Matt Best. Skyler Saunders. Matt Parmenter. Chris Warnke. Caleb Rowland. Jared Sausville.

Now that list can add players including senior Jonas Butz and junior Tommy English.

Every season, it seems the Indians come up with a new star running back out of thin air, but look a little closer and it's much more than that.

"It's the way that Coach Baker did it," said Luke, referencing legendary Cambridge and Hoosick Falls coach Ken Baker. "He wanted players to earn their way up. A kid might go from the four-back (wing) to the three-back (tailback) and blossom. They just have to wait their turn. Tommy did that last year, and before that was Jonas. They have a role as a young kid and they'll have the opportunity to [do it on varsity] if they work for it."

Luke started as the head coach of the Indians in 1998, but he was an assistant under Baker before that, and also played for Cambridge himself in the 1970s.

He's seen every kid who was or could have been thrive in the Cambridge system.

"I coached Wayne Saunders, Skyler's dad, in the mid-90s," Luke said after practice on Tuesday as the Indians prepare for their second straight state championship game. "Then Sakima, we had a couple of Grimes. Rowlands and Englishes, there's families that have been here [for years]. It's good to coach the next generation, but it makes me feel old."

The numbers don't lie.

In 2010, Matt Best rushed for more than 1,200 yards. The next year, Saunders and Aaron Mulready filled in, with Saunders rushing for 1,600 yards and Mulready another 1,200. The next year, another senior, Matt Parmenter, was the man, rushing for 1,200 yards.

The line continued: 2013, Caleb Rowland and Warnke were both better than 1,300 yards on the ground. In 2015, Andy Romack led Cambridge with 900 yards rushing and that same year, Butz had 243 yards in a reserve role.

Every year, the rushing leader is different, basically by design.

"It's a system that starts from [the youth levels] and you have to work their way up. Jonas was a little guy, and he's grown up quite a bit and he's deserved that chance," Luke said. "We try to instill that it's not the individual, it's about the team and they have to work their way to be a part of that. The line is the same way, we want to fill the next guy in where he's supposed to be."

Luke said he's changed his offense a couple of times over the years when the running game wasn't as strong, but for the most part over the past 30 years, they have done the same thing over and over and it's up to other teams to stop it. The system doesn't change, just the names of the players running it.

"[Warnke] is a great example. He was going to be a lineman, but we ended up moving him to end later on and he had skills," Luke said. "He moved well for a big guy. Then durning our scrimmage, he ran the ball a couple of plays and did well, so we figure he'd fit better than the person we had. All of these guys have been backups at one point in their [career], it's the way life works."

A lot of how that happens is the fact that both the JV and varsity practice together, one benefit of being a small school.

"We have them for four years and we see them progress all the way up," Luke said. "We train them as they go through it, they are earning their spot as a senior when they are freshmen and sophomores."

Butz, who has rushed for nearly 1,000 yards in Cambridge's multi-headed attack, said he has learned a lot from former players that he's watched or played with.

"It's been a great experience, I was watching them in elementary school and then getting into high school with guys like Jared and Chris and Caleb [Rowland]," Butz said. "I've learned from them and put some of their skills into my own game. Jared was the four-back and he was also a good blocker and I wanted to become a good blocker. It means a lot because those guys were the stars and it's a great honor to be in that spot now for Cambridge. Waiting makes you value it more, you've had to work for the spot and now it's your turn to run the ball and be the guy."

While Butz and English are this year's stars, as usual, there are new guys ready to fill those roles when they graduate.

"Hunter Day and Paul DuJack are like that, they are at the [sub-varsity] level and they see it every day," Luke said. "They see what it's like as a younger kid and they want to be like that."


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