BUFFALO, W.Va. — When sizing up Dylan Lucas, his record-setting senior running back, Buffalo coach Mike Sawyer didn’t dwell on Lucas’ game-breaking elusiveness, his speed or his strength, though those traits are there in abundance.
No, what caught Sawyer’s attention the most was Lucas’ approach to the game — his willingness to work despite being blessed with superior skills.
All of that helped Lucas capture the 2016 Curt Warner Award as the top high school running back in the state, as voted upon by the West Virginia Sports Writers Association.
Lucas piled up numbers like no one else this season, rushing for 2,465 yards and 36 touchdowns and averaging 322 all-purpose yards per game as the Bison advanced to the Class A playoffs for a third straight year.
The capper came when Lucas finished with 263 points, which tied the state’s modern regular-season scoring record turned in by none other than Warner himself during the 1978 season while playing at Class A Pineville. Warner went on to star as a running back at Penn State and in the NFL with the Seattle Seahawks.
“Over the years, I’ve had a lot of good running backs, but he was probably the best,’’ Sawyer said of Lucas. “They don’t come along like him very often — definitely once in a lifetime.’’
Lucas, a two-time first-team running back on the Class A all-state team, almost has numbers too numerous to mention — this season alone, 43 overall touchdowns and 13 scoring runs of 50 or more yards, including a 92-yarder against Greenbrier West. Over the past two seasons, he strung together 21 straight games with 113 or more yards rushing, broken in the Bison’s first-round playoff loss this year to eventual state champion St. Marys.
All of that, however, isn’t what first leaps to mind for Sawyer when he talks about Lucas’ impact on his program.
“The great thing about him,’’ Sawyer said, “is that he’s a great kid and he works hard. A lot of times, your really talented kids, it comes easy to them and they don’t work as hard, but not him. He worked as hard as anyone on the team, did what he was supposed to do — and even more.’’
Lucas said he attempted to lead by example on the practice field and in the training room.
“I always tried to work my hardest,’’ Lucas said, “and try to get the guys to do the same. I think I had a big impact on some of the underclassmen, some of the freshmen and sophomores. Sometimes they would stay after practice and run with me. Toward the end of the season, they kind of realized the work they needed to put in with all the guys we’ve got leaving this year. It had a big impact on them to have a better work ethic.’’
During the offseason, Lucas realized he needed to hone his 5-foot-10, 183-pound body to be able to withstand a lot more punishment that he was going to face in the 2016 season.
As Sawyer pointed out, Lucas was out before halftime in many games in 2015 as Buffalo went 10-0 in the regular season with several lopsided victories.
“He knew he was going to get more carries this season,’’ Sawyer said, “because there were going to be more teams who could play with us.’’
Lucas responded with a career-high 203 carries and added another 53 touches on receptions, kick returns and defensive takeaways. He went over 200 yards rushing in eight of 10 regular-season games, and saved some of his top efforts against playoff teams:
* Against Class AA Winfield, Lucas ran 19 times for 332 yards and three touchdowns;
* Versus Williamstown, he had 36 carries for 239 yards and three scores;
* Against Tug Valley, Lucas ran 19 times for 212 yards and three TDs;
* Versus Fayetteville, he was “held’’ to 122 yards and three TDs on 29 carries, but added 39 yards on three catches and 75 yards on an interception return.
Even in the playoff loss to St. Marys, when he managed only 83 yards on 17 attempts, Lucas finished with 196 all-purpose yards with some nice kick returns.
Sawyer, who stepped down as Buffalo coach following the season, said the notion that Lucas was only dangerous in the open field is incorrect, since he gained a lot of his yardage between the tackles.
“He likes to run up inside,’’ Sawyer said, “and he ran up inside a lot. He’d see a hole and explode through it. His strength was running inside, finding a seam and hitting it. I think being a wrestler helped him big-time with his balance and helped him keep his feet for a lot of yardage after being hit. That and being a hard weightlifter.’’
Lucas finished third at 170 pounds in last season’s Class AA-A state wrestling meet, carrying a 43-4 record, but has decided to forgo wrestling this season in order to get ready for college football.
“I want to focus on recruiting and getting ready for college,’’ Lucas said. “I want to gain some weight, work on my strength and stability coming out of breaks and cuts.’’
Lucas, who carries a 3.9 grade-point average, said he has received offers from a handful of Division II programs so far, but is still “open to anything’’ for college.
He also started on defense at Buffalo, recording 56 tackles (six for loss), intercepting four passes and recovering two fumbles.
Rick Ryan is a sports writer for the Charleston Gazette-Mail and a member of the WVSWA.