CARY — The highlight so far of Dorrel McClains stellar senior season at Panther Creek came Sept. 20, when he helped lead the Catamounts to a come-from-behind victory over top-ranked Leesville Road.
Looking back, McClain cant help but smile.
He said hes friends with Braxton Berrios, Leesvilles standout senior who committed recently to the University of Miami.
We knew coming into the game we were going to challenge each other, McClain said of Berrios.
The start of the first quarter wasnt much of a challenge for Leesville. Then Berrios suffered an injury to his left foot just before halftime, and Panther Creek coach Sean Crocker made adjustments to get the ball to McClain.
It worked: McClain scored all five of the Catamounts touchdowns, leading the team to a 34-21win.
Panther Creek had been a team that grew accustomed to losing in 2012, often by narrow margins. The Cats were last year, picking up their only win against Apex.
In retrospect, McClain said, last years team was selfish.
After losing a few games, we had it in our minds we had no chance, he said.
Then something changed in the Panther Creek mindset, and McClain was front and center of the transformation. Players hit the weight room hard over the summer, he said, and the experience brought the team together.
So far this year, Panther Creek is 6-2. The team lost to Wake Forest in the season opener 28-14 and later lost 23-21 to Southwest Wake Conference rival Middle Creek. The Catamounts bounced back last week with a 34-16 victory over Fuquay-Varina.
Its this whole team, McClain said. We came together as a family.
McClain is leading the team with 17 touchdowns and 985 rushing yards.
Dorrel is having an excellent year, said Crocker, who is in his second year as head coach. Hes a hard worker hes always been.
He pushes everybody
McClain, 18, has had a football in his hands as long as he can remember.
And he comes from a football family. His father played for Cary High, he said, and his older brother played for Apex.
McClain spent his freshman season at Holly Springs, where he played on the junior varsity. Then his family moved, and McClain earned a spot on Panther Creeks varsity as a sophomore.
Last year, he pretty much did it all for the Catamounts, playing three positions on offense.
He also played defense and returned some kicks, too.
McClain doesnt have so much on his plate these days, so he can focus entirely on making big plays as a running back.
Hes a key guy, Crocker said. I told him coming into the year we were going to lean on him.
Brenden Magner, Panther Creeks junior quarterback, looks to McClain during games and practice.
Whenever I can get him the ball, he makes plays, Magner said. He makes everybody around him better.
Magner also said those weight-room sessions have been crucial to the team. He pushes everybody around him to work hard, Magner said.
Some colleges have expressed interest, and McClains hoping to play for Elon University. He already has visited, he said, and appreciated that the coaches and players seemed down to earth. It just feels like Im home when Im there, he said.
But before he heads to college, McClain has work to do at Panther Creek. Theres still a lot of football to play: The team still has Southwest Wake games against Apex, Holly Springs and Green Hope.
McClain has big hopes for his team, but this is his biggest wish: I just want us to stay humble.
This is his family, after all.
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