Not long ago, Ebenezer McCarthy Jr. was a key contributor for his middle school football team. This fall, the sophomore standout has emerged as the featured back for Albemarle High School.
McCarthy Jr. rushed for a season-high 115 yards on 18 carries and scored a touchdown as the Patriots snapped a five-game losing skid and picked up their first win of the season during last Friday’s 45-16 victory over visiting Monticello. He averaged 6.4 yards per carry and was the catalyst for a running game that racked up a season-high 387 yards on the ground to garner Daily Press Athlete of the Week honors.
“Coming out with high intensity was important for me,” McCarthy said. “The first two plays were running plays and I got the first down on the second play. From there, we kept going, leading us to a touchdown. This game meant a lot to me and I knew I had to do whatever it took to help the team win. That game was probably one of the best games I’ve played in, not because of the score, but the fact that everyone was on the same page and we stayed positive throughout the whole game.”
It was a breakout peformance for a young Albemarle team that had experienced its share of growing pains this season. From a litany of injuries to key personnel prior to the season to the typical growing pains of young players pressed into starting roles at the varsity level, McCarthy admits his first varsity season has been a whirlwind.
“Every snap, we aim for positive yards, mainly as a running back,” McCarthy said. “I’ve learned that not every play is going to be a touchdown or a 50-yard gain, but if you can get the chains moving, that’s the most important for me.”
Senior Mahki Robinson-Washington was expected to be the Patriots’ featured back after racking up 1,000 yards last season. But a lingering knee injury forced Robinson-Washington to miss the first half of the season, opening the door for McCarthy to take over as the featured back.
The sophomore credits Robinson-Washington for helping prepare him for the new role.
“Mahki is definitely someone I look up to,” McCarthy said. “He’s taught me to just keep going, no matter what. Keep going and keep pounding the rock. He faced a serious injury this year, but that didn’t take away from his love and passion for football. It’s not often that you get to play alongside with someone like Mahki and I’m very grateful for it. He’s the thunder and I’m the lightning.”
Albemarle coach Brandon Isaiah has coached both of McCarthy’s older brothers during his time at Albemarle and knew what to expect. Kevin McCarthy was a star running back for the Patriots in 2015, rushing for around 1,200 yards in just six weeks. Melvin McCarthy was a versatile role player for Isaiah’s team.
“EB is a special young man,” Isaiah said. “I have known him for quite some time as I have had the opportunity to coach his two older brothers. They are all excellent kids and so easy to coach and be around.”
When the injury to Robinson-Washington happened, Isaiah said there was little question that McCarthy could handle the job.
“The thing that sticks out about EB is his demeanor,” Isaiah said. “ He never gets too high or too low. His path of growth had to change drastically as we have had nine starters out for the first half of the season. He has been asked to carry the load and take the pounding as a sophomore and grow on the job. He never complains and is always up for the challenge. He is one several sophomores that has helped keep the team moving forward during a challenging time.”
Football wasn’t always McCarthy’s athletic passion. He spent most of his youth playing soccer and quickly made a name for himself as a defender.
“There was nothing I loved more than playing soccer and my dad was always putting me on older teams, so it was more of a challenge,” McCarthy said. “I established that I was pretty fast as a kid and my coach put me on defense to stop anyone from getting close enough to score. Sadly, I stopped playing soccer in the seventh grade because my love for it went away and I wanted to play a sport that was more competitive, and I knew I had potential in football.”
McCarthy credits his family circle for preparing him for his new challenge.
“My love of football came from my brothers,” McCarthy said. “Not from them scoring touchdowns or making tackles, but from them having fun and always leaving the game with a smile on their face.”
The sophomore is a big fan of New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara. The former University of Tennessee standout took the NFL by storm with his ability to make plays in the running game and as a receiver out of the backfield. McCarthy said he sees a lot of himself in Kamara’s playing style.
“He can do whatever you ask him to with no complaints,” McCarthy said. “Running back, receiver, honestly he might be able to kick, too, but he never complains and just plays the game of football.”
“EB is a smooth and explosive athlete,” Isaiah said. “He is making the transition from running behind his pads and using his skills. He is not afraid to grind for the tough yards.”
Running with a purpose has been one of the key differences in McCarthy’s game this season.
“Something I’ve tried to add to my game this year is power,” McCarthy said. “Instead of always being the one to take the hit, I could deliver some also.”
In the classroom, McCarthy is just as focused. He admits his favorite subject is math and really enjoys analyzing things.
“It’s not the easiest [subject], but I’d rather have to find the value of x than remember when the battle of Gettysburg was and how many people were involved in it”,” he said. “I love to learn. Learn how things work, learn about different places in the world or learn in school. My goal every day is to learn something new.”
McCarthy also has taken that mindset to the gridiron, where he and sophomore quarterback Jacob King have been handed the keys to the Patriots’ offense.
“Ever since eighth grade, we knew we could be a dangerous duo, as long as we stuck together,” McCarthy said. “It’s hard trusting two sophomores to start at [those positions], but Coach Isaiah took a risk and truly believed in our potential. I think we’re doing a pretty good job so far, but there’s a lot more to come.”
Albemarle is ranked 8th in this week’s Region 5D standings, just behind Brooke Point. A strong finish over the final half of the season could help bolster the Patriots’ playoff seeding. For McCarthy, he’s excited about the journey ahead.
“I really have high expectations for the rest of the season,” McCarthy said. “Our offensive line has definitely stepped up and been a key to our success. I’ve learned that we must come out aggressive from the first snap and play all four quarters as hard as we can. We have a young team this year, but other teams aren’t going to letup because of that. We’ve gotten better at matching that energy.”