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On 18th birthday, Tarboro’s Keon Caudle closes out prep career with MVP performance

Tarboro’s Keon Caudle talks about his East-West game MVP performance

Tarboro running back Keon Caudle talks about extra carries and winning the East-West All-Star game MVP on his birthday.
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Tarboro running back Keon Caudle talks about extra carries and winning the East-West All-Star game MVP on his birthday.

After Keon Caudle scored the final touchdown of the night to lead the East to a 20-8 win over the West in the NCCA East-West All-Star game, he went racing to the sidelines, arms flailing like propellers as he made he way towards his teammates.

Caudle, a running back from Tarboro, had plenty to celebrate.

His 18th and final carry resulted in his only score, securing the win for the East. Caudle had all but wrapped up most valuable player honors already by rushing for 119 yards on his 18th birthday.

It was his second consecutive 100-yard game after his 105 yards in the 1AA state title game, a 50-10 win over East Surry. The 18 carries were a career-high since Caudle shared the ball at Tarboro with a deep stable of backs who were all capable of 100-yard nights.

“Most definitely,” Caudle told a group of reporters when asked if this was the best birthday ever. “Getting a win, on top of my birthday, yes sir.”

Caudle winning the MVP proved what eastern North Carolina teams already knew about the 5-foot-11, 185-pound running back: he’s one of the best in the state. At Tarboro, Caudle was a key component as the Vikings won back-to-back 1AA titles. As a senior he averaged 10.4 yards per carry, but carried the ball only 99 times for 1,033 yards and 17 touchdowns, often sitting out the second half of Tarboro blowouts and sharing carries.

He only had three games this year when he had 10 or more rushing attempts, with a regular-season-high 13 attempts coming against Edenton in the 1AA East championship.

On the second drive Wednesday, Caudle got three carries in a row, then immediately came to the sidelines and sat on the bench, catching his breath and drinking water. The temperature at kickoff was 90 degrees and Caudle hadn’t played since December. Combine that with the fact Caudle was used to getting maybe two touches per drive for Tarboro, he had to regroup after seeing early on he would be the workhorse.

“Coming out of Tarboro we have like 15 different running backs so I have to share the ball,” Caudle said. “Getting the ball back-to-back-to-back … it was a great experience.”

Caudle played in the famous Tarboro-T offense for four years. The Tarboro-T involves a lot of fakes and misdirection, so Caudle had to learn a new system in six days for the East-West game. He admitted it wasn’t an easy transition, with the coaches having to drill the concepts of the offense to him over and over again. On the first drive of the game he had minimal impact, getting stopped in the backfield on his first carry, and barely getting back to the line of scrimmage on his second.

Once he got into a groove, there was no question who the best player on the field was. Coming from a school in the smallest division, Caudle, who plans to walk-on at NC State, came into the week with a point to prove.

“Always,” Caudle said. “That goes for every 1A or 1AA football team, it is possible.”

Sports reporter Jonas Pope IV covers college recruiting, high school sports, NC Central and the ACC for the Herald-Sun and The News & Observer.
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