Never pick on the little guy because one day, that little guy may grow up to be Dan Ghormley.
Ghormley, the Soldotna senior running back and linebacker, has gone from what SoHi coach Sarge Truesdell calls an "average junior varsity" football player as a sophomore to a player who this year can aptly bang heads with anybody in the Northern Lights Conference.
In addition to providing a stout presence at his outside linebacker's position, Ghormley has rushed for 445 yards on 64 carries for the Stars this year. That's an average of 7.0 yards per carry. Ghormley also has scored eight touchdowns for Soldotna.
Not bad for a kid who Truesdell said was "a little bit of a runt" in his Pop Warner middle school days.
"I remember that in Pop Warner I did OK, because I really didn't grow until my sophomore year," said Ghormley, who is listed as 5-foot-11, 180 pounds, on the Soldotna roster.
But even back in those Pop Warner days, Ghormley was developing attributes that serve him well today.
Although undersized, Ghormley always was athletic. His father, Dennis Ghormley, notes that his son's nickname in his Pop Warner days was "Wheels."
And Ghormley always had the body control and balance that makes him tough to tackle these days.
Ghormley's mother, Sandra, said that when her son was about 4 years old, he was in the living room one day when the pommel horse portion of the men's gymnastics competition appeared on television during the Olympics.
As the gymnast whipped himself into a handstand, Sandra was shocked to turn around and find Dan performing the same maneuver on the family's coffee table.
"The thing that amazes me is that if he envisions it, he can make his body do it," Sandra said. "He's a natural athlete."
Thanks to his small stature early in life, Ghormley also said he had to learn additional tricks on the football field.
"Being a small kid in the middle of a bunch of big kids, I had to pay attention to where everybody was," Ghormley said. "If I didn't see someone, chances are they were going to hit me hard.
"Now, when I'm running the ball, I'm not just worrying about the defender in front of me that I have to beat. I'm seeing the whole field."
Once Ghormley hit his growth spurt during his sophomore year, he quickly started grabbing the attention of Truesdell.
"He went from a kid that was an average junior varsity football player as a sophomore to someone who was an above average varsity player as a junior," Truesdell said. "I think a lot of it is that he got bigger, matured and went to a lot of football camps.
"But it's also how hard he works. Every single drill, he's doing as hard as he can."
Ghormley's problem was that Soldotna's roster was stacked with talented seniors last year. However, when starting fullback Derek Martin separated his shoulder in the second-to-last game of the regular season, Ghormley got a chance to start.
He responded by rushing for two touchdowns in a semifinal playoff victory over Seward, then rushing for 125 yards in a small-schools state championship loss to Kenai.
This summer, Ghormley looked to further that success by attending four football camps and lifting weights nearly every day he was not at camp.
Then he suffered a scare when he went down with a knee injury in the first quarter of Soldotna's opener against North Pole.
"I was thinking about having a really good year and playing with the guys one last time," Ghormley said. "Then all of a sudden my knee popped, and I'm out."
Ghormley had sprained the meniscus in his right knee. After sitting out against Colony, he returned to action against Lathrop.
The Stars lost to the Malemutes, but since then the team has ripped off three straight victories to even its overall mark at 3-3.
And leading the way has been former "little guy" Ghormley and his smash-mouth style of running.
"After he gets hit is when he makes most of his yards," Dennis said. "He likes to go through people. I think that's just his nature."
Ghormley said he owes a lot of his football attitude to his brother, Todd, the 2002 SoHi graduate who now plays outside linebacker for South Dakota Tech.
"He was kind of the main thing that influenced me in football," said Ghormley, who took over the No. 88 jersey at SoHi from Todd. "I always wanted to be as good as him, but he was so much bigger and faster than me that I knew I'd have to work hard to do it."
Football is Ghormley's favorite sport at Soldotna, but he also has participated in soccer, hockey and wrestling for the Stars.
"When I was a little kid, teachers would always tell my parents that I was one of those kids that did not sit still," Ghormley said. "It helps me to stay active."
Ghormley also finds time to achieve a 3.5 grade point average in the classroom. Ghormley would like to attend college next year and play football while preparing for a career in medicine or engineering.
"He's extremely teachable, along with being coachable on the field," said Dave Emery, who teaches science at Soldotna as well as serving as the junior varsity and running backs coach for the football squad. "You can just see it in his eye.
"He has a great future because he's willing to do what he's told, and he puts in the time it takes to get what he wants."
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