Before you dismiss Gwaltney's achievement as a nice, little local achievement, you should realize that the population in Nassau and Suffolk counties is a combined 2.7 million, about a million more people than the entire state of West Virginia, and that the two counties that make up Long Island are the home to 107 football-playing high schools. There are 125 in all the Mountain State, by the way.
With that as a reference, Gwaltney's name is now at the top of most of Long Island's records. He is the leader in career rushing yards (6,140), career touchdowns (108), single-season rushing yards (2,601 yards in 2003 in 10 games), single-game rushing yards (467 on 43 carries vs. East Islip in 2003). He also has more 200-yard rushing games (nine) in his career than anyone else in Long Island history, as well as more 300-yard efforts (six).
Gwaltney's accomplishments have certainly gotten a lot of attention. Stories on his pursuit of the records are constants in the local Long Island papers.
"It's hard not to pay attention to it (the record), but I try not to let it go to my head, though," noted Jason. "I think my linemen are more excited about the record than I am, but they should be, because they've helped me get every yard."
Having verbally committed to WVU in February along with Scooter Berry, his teammate at North Babylon and also his half-brother, Jason started this season in much the same fashion as he finished the last. He churned out 196 yards and four touchdowns on 30 carries in the opener against Centrech. He followed that with 257 yards and two TDs on 28 attempts against East Islip and 214 yards and three touchdowns on 23 carries against Bellport.
North Babylon, which was 8-2 in 2003, finishing as the runner-up on Long Island's Division II, easily won its three first games. That streak came to an end on Oct. 16, when rival West Babylon (4-0) rallied from a 19-0 third quarter deficit, winning 29-27. Jason had 184 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries in that game, but the numbers meant nothing to him after the loss.
"I only care about the wins," Gwaltney told Newsday after the defeat. "The records are for the stat guys. I'm furious that we lost. I'm furious that I was forced from the game during a crucial drive, and we threw an interception. If I'm on the field, we don't throw the ball, and we score. This is my fault. I'll take the blame for the loss."
|Mountaineer fans travelling to the Rutgers game have a chance to make it a full WVU football weekend, as Gwaltney, Berry and North Babylon play Copiague on Friday, Oct. 29th at 7:00 p.m.
Directions to Copiague are available via the Suffolk County Athletics website.
Simply search for the football schedule of North Babylon, then click on the map icon for directions to the school.
Gwaltney and the Bulldogs bounced back from their lone loss with an impressive performance, with Jason accumulating 371 yards and seven touchdowns on 31 carries. He had 269 of those rushing yards and five TDs in the first half alone, before shutting it down completely in the fourth quarter.
Having eclipsed the 6,000-yard barrier in his career with the Bulldogs, who are 4-1 on the season, Gwaltney will have to be content with bettering his own records for now. The New York State record is held by Michael Hart of Onondaga (2000-03). Now an impressive true freshman at Michigan, Hart rushed for 11,045 yards in his career at Onondaga, which is a Central New York school near Syracuse. Hart's career rushing total is the second best mark in U.S. history, trailing on the 11,232 yards posted by Ken Hall of Sugar Land, Texas (1950-53). Hart's 204 career touchdowns do stand alone at the top of both the state and national list.
Jason has had to deal with a couple of setbacks this year. The loss to West Babylon was the most upsetting to him, but his career rushing stats also took a hit a few weeks ago. As Gwaltney was approaching the Long Island career record, which was held by Jerone Pettus (5,841 yards set from 1996-99), it was discovered that his freshman numbers weren't accurate. When his stats were compiled at the end of his rookie year, the assistant coach who was keeping track combined his 696 rushing yards and 194 receiving yards. For the past couple of years, his freshman stats inaccurately read 890 rushing yards, but the mistake was discovered a few weeks ago, and the correction was made. It obviously didn't stop Gwaltney from reaching the top of the chart, but it did add another week to the pursuit.
Gwaltney and North Babylon have had a couple of small setbacks, but Jason also did receive a big honor recently when he was invited to the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, which is now sponsored by our parent network, Scout.com. The All-American Bowl is a national high school all-star game, which features 39 of the best prep players in the East against 39 from the West. This year's game, which is the fourth annual event, will be played on Jan. 15 in San Antonio. WVU has never had one of its recruits participate in the game in the past, but not only is Gwaltney headed to San Antonio but so is Parkersburg (W.Va.) South receiver Ryan Dawson, who has also given the Mountaineers a verbal.
"Of course it's an honor," said Gwaltney of being picked for the all-star game. "I thank Tom Lemming of ESPN for selecting me. I think when I went to the Nike Camp (this past summer), I turned a lot of heads, because there were a lot of ohhs and ahhs, and everybody seemed to be doubting a kid from Long Island. But that's one of the things that drove me and made me work harder in the offseason. I think on Jan. 15 when that game comes about, I plan on showing the nation who the best running back is."
Jason is a player built for the North Babylon offense, which relies heavily on the ground game. A combination of power, speed and balance, Gwaltney has averaged over 26 carries a game the past three seasons.
"Coach (Terry) Manning is an old school kind of guy," explained Gwaltney of his veteran Bulldog head coach. "He likes three and a half yards and a cloud of dust. He likes to pound away, and we don't look to pass unless we really need it and our backs are against the wall."
North Babylon foes know what is coming their way; stopping it is usually a different story.
"We see every defense imaginable. When we played Bellport, they only had one defensive back; everybody else was in the box," noted Jason, who already bench presses 400 pounds and squats 405. "It was strange. We've seen defenses where they'll put seven on the strong side and four on the weak side. They do whatever they can to stop us. By me still running for all these yards, it just shows that my team is ready, and I'm doing what I need to do to find room in these defenses. It can be tough, because it seems like they have 32 people in the box sometimes."
With defenses stacking the box, Gwaltney enters every game with a huge X on his chest. The mantra is that if you can slow down Jason Gwaltney, you have a chance at defeating NB. That makes Jason's job even more difficult, but he wouldn't have it any other way.
"I live for that," said Gwaltney of being a marked man. "I definitely enjoy it. It makes me work harder than an average player. If nobody cares about what you do this week, you don't have that same inspiration to work hard. I think that gives me the drive and the energy to get going.
"I know I'm the focus of most defenses, but that just goes with the territory. I look at it as a compliment. Last year against Riverhead, I ran for 190 yards, but we lost. Most people wouldn't consider 190 yards really stopping a running back, but last year it was enough to beat us. But this year, we have other players and other weapons that if I'm held to 190 yards, when there are six people tackling me at a time, I think we can still find a way to win."
Jason and Scooter, who is a 6-3, 270-pound fullback/ linebacker, have been to WVU several times in the past year, including a couple of days at Rich Rodriguez's Summer Camp in June. The brothers' most recent visit came in September when they watched the Mountaineers hammer East Carolina in the season opener. Gwaltney was impressed with the team to whom he has committed.
"It was a lot of fun. West Virginia went off, and Kay-Jay (Harris) did his thing," said Jason, who has 1,222 yards and 18 TDs through the first five games this season. "I really think in a couple of years, that could be me filling that spot in the Blue and Gold. I like the coaching scheme, the people and the fans, especially the fans. Those are the things that have steered me towards West Virginia."
Jason may be committed to the Mountaineers, but that doesn't mean other schools have stopped recruiting him. When asked if he is still being hounded, Gwaltney breathes a sigh of exasperation.
"Please don't ask me that question. Yeah, it's still going 100 miles per hour. Everyone is still calling. I look at it like, if a coach wants the best players in the program, they're going to keep recruiting no matter what, even if you've already committed. A coach is going to keep recruiting as hard as he can, because he wants the best players in his program. That's what a lot of coaches are doing. I don't know if I'm a great player or not, but they must see something in me to make them want to recruit me. The nice thing is that West Virginia saw that first."
Jason insists that his heart is still Blue and Gold, but he admits that he's listening to what other schools have to say, and he explains that he does plan on taking a couple other official visits, besides one to WVU in early January.
"My uncle tells me that everybody is still going to recruit me, and that I should listen, because you never know what they are going to have to offer," said Jason. "Maybe they'll have something to offer that West Virginia doesn't, so I'm willing to listen to other schools. But when it comes down to it, I just like the way West Virginia has gone about recruiting me, and I don't think any school can compare with what Coach (Herb) Hand and Coach (Calvin) Magee and Coach Rod (Rich Rodriguez) have to offer. (All three coaches took in Jason's game this past weekend.) I'm taking a visit to USC. I might be going to Ohio State and Nebraska, and obviously West Virginia."
For a player of Gwaltney's stature, there are always going to be doubts until his name is finally on the National Letter of Intent. The early commitment last February was very nice for the Mountaineers, but it doesn't bind Jason, and obviously he's still getting plenty of attention from the national powers. The powerhouse programs aren't going to quietly give up on a blue chipper like Gwaltney until the very end, but for West Virginia fans still sweating, he has a one-word answer when asked if his commitment is still solid for the Mountaineers.
Small word, but for WVU, it has a huge meaning.