It’s truly a sight to behold.
Here comes Elijah Qualls of Casa Grande (Petaluma, Calif.), listed at 6-foot-1 and 285 pounds but probably bigger, into the offensive huddle. He blends in just fine until the huddle breaks, the players clap, and the offensive linemen take their set positions -- and Qualls is nowhere to be found.
Instead, the rising senior has taken his spot behind the quarterback. He’s a running back, and he’s a pretty good one at that. He carried the ball 166 times last fall, rushing for 1,139 yards and 14 touchdowns. But he’s more than a bowling ball in the backfield, as he also caught 13 balls for 215 yards and another score. He even passed for a score once last season.
Of course, Qualls does more than just punish opposing defenses on the ground. On the other side of the ball, he takes a position more befitting of a player his size on the defensive line. The combination of skill, power, speed and agility has made him an intriguing recruit, and he’s been heavily recruited at both offensive and defensive positions.
Last season, Qualls led Casa Grande to a 9-4 record, and the Gauchos advanced to the second round of the CIF North Coast Section Division II tournament. But this season, Qualls and his teammates have higher hopes.
So who exactly is this larger than life running back? It’s time to Get Familiar with Elijah Qualls.
ESPNHS: How’d you get started with football?
Qualls: I got started when I was 5. I grew up in a horrible neighborhood, and my dad got me into it to keep myself out of trouble. I had a bit of a bad temper, too, so I got to use my anger for something productive.
ESPNHS: Were you always a bigger kid?
Qualls: I was always kind of wide, but never really tall. I didn’t really grow until the summer of my sophomore year. I’ve never been that big a person, and so I was always training as a running back, working to add agility and balance. And then all of a sudden I blew up, but I kept my speed and agility.
ESPNHS: You play some running back and some defensive end. Do you have a preference?
Qualls: It doesn’t really matter to me. Both positions are fun. I just want to ball out and have fun.
ESPNHS: How about the schools that are recruiting you? Who’s on your list right now, and where are they recruiting me?
Qualls: I’m down to six right now – Washington, USC, Arizona, Nevada, Oregon State and Cal -- and a couple want me just on the defensive line, a couple want me to do both, but some of them want me just as a running back, which is pretty cool. I’m still getting to know these coaches. I’m narrowing it down every few weeks, but I’ll probably make a decision within the next couple of months.
ESPNHS: How do you feel like you did at the Oakland NFTC?
Qualls: It went pretty good. Last year was my first year on the D-line, and I’m not extremely good at it yet. I’m not that good technique-wise. I played more with leverage and speed, but my hand technique isn’t that great. But I still won 60 or 70 percent of the time. I did use a little bit of my hands and I had a good move here and there. The rest was just speed.
ESPNHS: What was it like to walk away with an invite to The Opening?
Qualls: To be honest, at first, I didn’t really know what it was. But then my cousin explained it to me, and then I was really excited. It’s an honor to be considered one of the top players.
ESPNHS: Tell us a little about your high school team. What are some of the expectations for this season?
Qualls: We exceeded expectations last season. It was a good season, but this season is going to be a lot better. We have a lot of talent. We’re young, so we’re a little raw, but when we get the experience and the reps, we’ll be good.
ESPNHS: And I’m sure you’re looking forward to getting back out there at running back.
Qualls: It’s not every day you see a 280-pound running back. I’m really blessed.
School: Casa Grande (Peteluma, Calif.)
2011 Team Record: 9-4 (Lost in CIF North Coast Section Division II tourney)
Athlete: Barry Sanders
Musical Artist: Hopsin & Wiz Khalifa
Video Game: “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3”
Movie: “Friday Night Lights”