Long Beach Poly senior Elijah Juarez did not start the year as the Jackrabbits’ running back. The 6-foot-2, 215 pound Juarez was a linebacker turned defensive lineman turned tight end turned receiver turned linebacker.
“He’s a prototypical football player,” said Poly football coach Stephen Barbee. “His whole career he’s said what do you need? He’s played everywhere he’s been needed, and out of a senior that kind of selflessness is what you look for.”
When an injury-depleted Poly team was hit with even more injuries in what ended up being the Moore League championship game against Millikan, Barbee turned to Juarez again.
“It was like, ‘Who do we have?’” he remembers. “We had Anthony Parker but he’s our starting middle linebacker and I knew that wasn’t the fix. (Juarez) had run some of our stuff before and once we started teeing it up and running it, we knew we weren’t doing anything else.”
Juarez ended up with 19 carries for 142 yards and three touchdowns in his debut at the position, leading Poly to a 46-15 win over the Rams.
Juarez had actually played running back most of his youth sports career but fit in better at other positions at Poly. He said he was happy to get the ball in his hands in that Millikan game.
“I was like, ‘Ok cool I play running back now, let’s do it,’” he said.
Juarez only has four games experience running it this year since he didn’t move into the position until the start of league play, and he sat out the last two games with an injury. In those four games, Juarez piled up 613 yards rushing on 10.8 yards per carry and 10 total touchdowns.
Currently sitting on an offer from Portland State (at linebacker), Juarez knows that if he has a big game against JSerra, his phone is likely to start ringing.
“I’ve love to have a big game and get my name out there more, but honestly I’m just thinking about doing my job and my teammates doing their job,” said Juarez. “It’s going to take everyone playing well for us to win this game.”
Friday will be an interesting test for Juarez and Poly’s offensive line. They’ve been so dominant in the Moore League but haven’t faced a stiff defensive test like they’ll see in the Lions.
“Our identity is we’re going to run downhill at you, our bigs against your bigs,” said Barbee. “Elijah knows he’s going to get the carries. He’s a big back and we’ve got a big line.”
Unlike in the Millikan game when he made his big debut, everyone knows Juarez is coming–Poly’s secret weapon isn’t a secret anymore. If he can keep running the way he has the last six weeks, Poly will still be standing tall Friday night.