Adam Zweigart remembers watching the athleticism of former Jackson star Mario Whitney and the quick linemen leading his way.
"I've been coming to these games since about fourth or fifth grade," Zweigart said. "I was out here listening -- out here in the stands watching with my dad and I was just kind of watching [Whitney] and seeing what he did. He had good offensive linemen."
Nearly nine years have passed since Zweigart watched his first Jackson game and many talented running backs have come and gone since, including Whitney, Stuart McIntosh, Jason Meystedt, Austin Bock, Joel Penrod and Trae Smith.
And now it is Zweigart's turn to shine in the Indians' backfield.
Zweigart brings pure speed to the position, having qualified for the state track meet in the 400-meter dash last spring (49.92 seconds). But more goes into his game than natural ability and quickness.
Like many of his predecessors, Zweigart has earned and kept the position by lifting weights, studying film and communicating with his offensive linemen. And by combining those three key elements, Zweigart certainly has enjoyed success in his first year of varsity football.
The junior leads all Southeast Missouri football players with 822 yards rushing. He averages 9.34 yards per carry and 137 yards per game. And along the way, he has received some recruiting letters from Division I college programs, including Missouri, Kansas State and Tennessee.
Zweigart and Jackson (6-0) will be at home against Poplar Bluff (3-3) tonight at 7 p.m. The Indians would win the SEMO North Conference championship with a victory.
"We knew Adam Zweigart was going to be a good running back here, it was just a matter of getting healthy," Gross said. "When they moved him to running back his freshman year, he was a relentless runner with good quickness and he was able to make people miss and not take those direct shots."
Cody Randen, the leading rusher on last year's team, has shared carries with Zweigart this year. He's been impressed with Zweigart's ability to gain yards.
"Adam has proven that he's a good back," Randen said. "He's got pretty good speed. And he's more versatile than anything and he's really lengthy and can get out on the edge and run and stiff arm some people."
Improving his strength
Zweigart said he knew the importance of lifting weights during the offseason after seeing limited time due to injuries last fall.
"During the summer I came in every morning and lifted hard because I knew if I worked hard enough, I could overcome the senior's spot and start and that was what I wanted," he said.
Zweigart lifts all year and takes a weight lifting class at school for an hour each day. Additionally, he lifts three other times during the week and each morning during the summer. He typically uses a three-day cycle, working legs one day, followed by bench-press work the following day and triceps and biceps work on the third day.
"The most important thing [as a running back] I would say is jump ropes and squatting -- most of the leg work," he said. "So are calf raises to build on leg strength and speed.
"But you still need to have a tough core because that's where all your movement comes from and you've got to be pretty big in the upper body by benching and doing curls and then triceps."
Zweigart lifts a great deal during football season too, working on leg repetitions earlier in the week so his lower body does not become overworked and tired at games. As Friday draws closer, and even on game day, Zweigart will work on his upper body. The 5-foot-10, 170-pound junior said he plans on building muscle to increase his weight to 185 pounds by next season and more than 200 pounds by the time he is ready to play in college.
"He got in the weight room and lifted and trained really hard to get stronger and one of the biggest things for him was to go out for track and field and run the 100 to 200 to 400 meters because this really helped improve his strength," Gross said.
Zweigart's preparation goes beyond the weight room. He also spends time studying game film with his dad, Gary Zweigart, on Saturdays and his coaches, on Mondays.
His dad was a wide receiver, wing back and kickoff returner at Sparta High School in Illinois. He even received an invite to a Dallas Cowboys free agent camp in 1988, but he did not make the team. He uses his experience to help his son improve.
"What we do on Saturdays is that I go over the game with him," Gary said. "[I tell him], 'This is what you should've done right here.' I've got great prospects for him. That's the way you learn -- on seeing yourself and what you did and all that.
"I know Jackson coaches are great coaches, but I coach him at home, too."
Zweigart said his father is often providing him with tips to improve as a running back.
And when his father talks, he listens.
"He's very strict on football because of how far he went," Zweigart said. "And he wants me to do better than he did."
The other key element Zweigart credits for his success this year is the offensive line.
"That's where it starts out at," Zweigart said. "It's a little bit on the back, but it's mainly on the offensive line."
Gross said the line is experienced with two- and three-year starters, including Brian Hill, Ryan Kessinger and Ethan O'Connell.
"Me and Hill just have this kind of bond together," Zweigart said. "I put my hand on his back and I steer him wherever I want. And whenever he sees a guy and he cuts, I kind of nudge him that way and come right off his hip and take right off.
"For being as big as they are, they're pretty quick when they pull."
Hill enjoys playing side-by-side Zweigart.
"I have fun working with Zweigart," Hill said. "Zweigart will just read off of me and grabs onto me and wherever I go, he goes.
"He makes good cuts, he's real lengthy and stiff arms somebody and jukes somebody out and he's really quick."
Probably the most incredible note about Zweigart's season is that his 822 yards rushing have come in limited playing time. Not only has he shared carries with Randen, but hasn't played after halftime in three out of the six games because his team has had such a significant lead. That makes it unlikely he'll surpass Whitney's 2,782 yards rushing in a season, but he could lead the team back to the state tournament for the first time since that star back graduated.
"I would like to beat Mario Whitney's record, but I don't know if it's going to happen because of the playing time," Zweigart said. "It's great to come out here with the team that we have and start winning games, hopefully go to state this year."