When sizing up Walkersville's Quentin Ezell, opponents take one look at his compact, husky build and peg him as an interior lineman or maybe a blocking fullback. No way, they assume, could this kid be a running back.
But then the game starts.
"Usually they underestimate me at first," said the 5-foot-10, 220-pound Ezell, who fell just shy of 1,000 yards and scored 17 touchdowns in only eight games last year. "Most people don't expect a 220 guy to run a 4.5 [40-yard dash]. Unfortunately, most teams we play have film on me now and they've figured it out. If not, they do after a couple big runs."
Ezell laughed just thinking about one of his more memorable runs. It was at the end of the year and Walkersville was pitted against eventual state champion Catoctin.
On one of the first drives Ezell carried the ball on an inside trap. A Catoctin linebacker immediately stuffed the hole and wrapped Ezell up. But the big, bruising runner shrugged him off, bounced outside, broke two more tackles and then sprinted away from two secondary players. Two safeties jumped on his back, but he carried them across the goal line for a touchdown.
"Catoctin was a great team with a great defense and he ran right through them," said Walkersville coach Joe Polce. "He was chucking guys everywhere."
Ezell is a poor man's Jamal Lewis - and that's a compliment. Lewis (5-11, 240) has the same bullish build Ezell has. And, just like Ezell, many scouts initially thought the former Ravens star looked more like a fullback than a running back. But then Lewis ran a 4.38 40 at the NFL Combine. Suddenly, he became the hottest running back prospect in America. Ezell is about 20 pounds lighter and a few tenths of a second slower than Lewis, but the concept is still the same.
"I've always been bigger than most kids, and when I was younger people thought I was the big, slow kid," Ezell said. "I used to race people as a joke, and everyone just assumed they could beat me. But then I'd end up smoking them. I don't know how -- I guess I was just naturally fast."
Make no mistake: Ezell's game is more about power than speed. He's a threat to score on any play, but he's best at grinding out yards and wearing down defenses with his rugged inside runs.
"He's just a real strong kid," Polce said. "Like a rock of muscle - a bruising-style runner. He's tough, there's no doubt about it."
Unlike his speed, which Ezell says is a natural phenomenon, his strength results from hours of daily weight room work. Ezell bench-presses 315 pounds and squats well over 400, putting him on equal footing with the best interior linemen in the Monacacy Valley Athletic League.
"My dad always tells me, 'You can be good, but someone else is working 10 times harder and is probably 10 times better than you,'" Ezell said. "So that keeps me motivated. I'm always trying to keep up with that next guy, trying to get bigger and better."
Of course, weight-room work isn't the only way "to get bigger and better." Ezell also runs track and plays lacrosse, making him a rare three-sport athlete. Some critics say playing so many sports takes away from perfecting one in-particular. But Ezell disagrees.
"Track helps with speed, obviously," Ezell said. "And lacrosse -- I play defense - helps in so many different ways. You have to be able to move laterally and change direction quickly. You have to have good hand-eye coordination. You have to have endurance. You have to be able to take a hit. Bring it all together and it makes you a better football player."
Ezell has indeed become a better football player. The problem is he's not yet great. Ezell openly admits he needs to work on his footwork, his agility and his balance in order to be a more complete runner.
One area Polce would like to see Ezell improve is his initial acceleration. Ezell is like a Ford Mustang: It takes him a few seconds to build up speed, but once he gets going he can fly.
"He needs to get a little quicker with his first step," Polce said. "Guys that had success stopping him got to him before he got going. Once he gets a head of steam he's gone, but he needs to get to that point quicker."
Those little shortcomings are probably the reason Ezell hasn't received a BCS scholarship offer yet (he has one from Army). Some recruiters think he's fast enough and strong enough to play linebacker. But he's not quite tall enough. Other scouts think he's strong enough and big enough to play running back. But he's not quite fast enough.
In other words, he's one of those dreaded "tweeners."
"You know, I just have to roll with the punches and keep my head up," Ezell said. "I'm sure one offer will come in eventually. I'd love to be a D-I guy - that's always the goal. But I-AA might be more realistic."
Ezell might be selling himself short, according to Polce. The coach truly believes Ezell has what it takes to play Division I football.
"I've been around for a good while and seen plenty of [Division I] players," Polce said. "I know he's got the talent and he's going to work hard to get there. The kid can really play."
Ezell's been snubbed in the past. But time and again he's proven people wrong. Can the Walkersville locomotive do it one more time?
"It's my senior year and I want to go out with a bang," Ezell said. "I out to show scouts what I can do."