Michael Dyer, like most star running backs, has a special swagger. He'll strut around the field like he owns it.
And for the most part, he does.
Dyer, a senior at Little Rock Christian Academy in Arkansas, inspired the hype machine two years ago when he was named the EA Sports National Sophomore of the Year. During that eye-opening season, he rushed for a state sophomore-record 2,710 yards (9.7 yards per carry) and scored 31 touchdowns as LRCA advanced to the Class 5A final.
He went from being a relative unknown on the national recruiting scene to a major player on everyone's watch list. He's been compared to a young Barry Sanders, who possessed a low center of gravity, balance and field vision.
Yet if you ask LRCA head coach Justin Kramer, a glimpse of Dyer's success was on display in seventh grade.
"He's always been excessively competitive," said Kramer, who coached Dyer on the grade-school level. "He refuses to lose."
His breakout season didn't just happen; it was the result of hard work with a speed training coach and religiously lifting weights. Instead of relying on innate speed, he raised it to another level.
"He has a true passion for the game, for winning," Kramer said.
Dyer, the No. 6 overall prospect in the ESPNU 150 and the top-ranked running back, set that pattern early in his career. Kramer said Dyer, who doubles as a linebacker, has ripped the ball from a running back's grip and returned it for a touchdown on three occasions.
"You needed to see it to believe it," Kramer said.
Dyer nonchalantly dismissed the superlatives.
"I do what it takes to help the team," he said.
He did just that in the season opener Sept. 2, when the LRCA Warriors were clinging to a six-point lead against Oak Grove (North Little Rock, Ark.) in the final minutes.
Dyer was a one-man offensive wrecking crew, rumbling for 187 yards and four TDs, but the Warriors were on the verge of a loss. Dyer gave the Warriors a 28-22 lead with 7½ minutes left, carrying five times for 36 yards on the drive.
The precarious lead seemed in doubt.
That's when Dyer, a 5-foot-9, 215-pound ball of energy, went deep to record a game-saving tackle late in the fourth.
"Michael loves to play linebacker and would love more reps, but we have to limit them," Kramer said. "But that play typified him as a player."
Oak Grove's Shaquille Spearman took a screen pass down the far sidelines and broke free. It looked like Spearman was destined for the end zone.
"The kid [Spearman] broke two tackles," he said. "I knew I better catch him. I just kicked into high gear."
Dyer motored from the opposite sidelines, dropping him on the Warriors' 24 after a 41-yard gain. Later in the drive, he added his fifth tackle, preventing the tying score.
The only thing preventing Dyer and LRCA from more success in 2008 was a series of ankle injuries.
"Last year I didn't have my legs; I was injured [left ankle] in the fifth game and then I sprained my right one two games later," Dyer said. "I had surgery following the season."
LRCA, after a 7-1 start, limped to the finish losing its final three games, including a 24-20 setback in the opening round of the Class 5A playoffs to Siloam Springs. Hobbled for more than half the schedule, Dyer managed 1,984 rushing yards, with 20 scores and was tabbed Gatorade's state player of the year.
He is finally pain-free and looking to add to his career rushing totals (5,782 yards, 58 TDs in 36 games) Friday when the Warriors visit Morrilton. LRCA closes the regular season with seven straight in the ultra-competitive Class 5A Southwest against the likes of Magnolia, Fairview (Camden), Robinson (Little Rock) and Pulaski Academy (Little Rock).
Christopher Lawlor has covered high school sports for more than 20 years, most recently with USA Today, where he was the head preps writer responsible for national high school rankings in football, baseball and boys' and girls' basketball. He also worked for Scholastic Coach magazine, for which he ran the Gatorade National Player of the Year program for nine years. Lawlor, a New Jersey resident, grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University.