Staff Photo: John Bohn Mill Creek running back DeVozea Felton (82) catches a pass during a Passing League event held at Archer High School.
DeVozea Gaines went up for a catch against a pair of Archer defenders six inches taller than him and came down with the ball.
The Mill Creek running back/receiver raced into the end zone for a touchdown as a loud oohh came from the sidelines of his teammates at a passing league practice.
"Let's go, let's go," an excited Gaines said to everyone around him.
It was an impressive play, but it's something Mill Creek fans have grown accustomed to from Gaines. He routinely made big runs or catches for Mill Creek last year.
The Hawks will need more of that from Gaines this season. The team graduated its leading rusher and two leading receivers and the offensive line is practically new.
That leaves Gaines as one of the few veterans to lead the offense.
"It's my role, but it's not all my role," Gaines said. "We still have receivers and everybody else."
If the name DeVozea Gaines doesn't ring a bell, it's because he switched from his birth name Felton during the spring. Gaines is the last name of his mother, who remarried.
"Originally, I was Felton, but I switched to Gaines during track," Gaines said.
As a junior last year, Gaines rushed for 798 yards and seven TDs and had 27 catches for 331 yards and three TDs.
"With the year Jacorey (Lewis) had, I don't think people realized how big a year he had for us," Mill Creek coach Shannon Jarvis said.
His biggest game was against Mountain View, who he played for as a freshman, when he rushed for 150 yards and three TDs and had three catches or 65 yards for a score.
"He's a matchup nightmare, defensively, because of his speed and quickness," Jarvis said. "He's going to get used all over the field."
Gaines helped put Mill Creek in the quarterfinals of the state playoffs for the second time in three years. That has created high expectations for Gaines this season.
"Basically, do the same thing, but go further and beyond and get a state championship," Gaines said. "We still have weapons on offense and defense to do that."
Mill Creek graduated its all-time leading rusher in Lewis, who was the Daily Post's Offensive Player of the Year. Receivers Matt Pursell and Michael Cheeks are gone along with four members of the offensive line. The team does return quarterback Daniel David, but Gaines has taken a more active role in being a leader this summer.
"I have to be a leader, I have to get them pumped up," Gaines said. "It helps our defense, it helps our offense."
At 5-foot-7, 155 pounds, Gaines is one of the smallest players on the field. But he certainly has the speed to make you forget about his height. He was a region champion in the 100-meter run in track and holds a personal record of 10.89 seconds.
"Everyone looks at his size, but he's a powerful runner," Jarvis said. "We're not scared to run him inside."
It's that kind of speed Gaines plans to use this fall and make more impressive catches like he did this summer.
"He's faster this year because of track," Jarvis said. "He's alway been quick. He seems faster and we're looking for him to carry his load."