ELWOOD, Ind. — Jared Bourff took one look at the sophomore running back starting in the backfield and knew he was watching something special.
"He kinda stepped up," Elwood's senior tight end said. "He was playing against 18- and 19-year-olds, and he's only 16 years old. I'm thinking he's only going to get better from here. For the seniors, that's kinda when it hit a lot of us."
Two years later — with two 2,000-yard rushing seasons already to his credit — Sammy Mireles is closing in on the state career rushing record. He needs 211 yards Friday night at Alexandria to surpass former Cathedral star Otis Shannon's total of 7,560.
It's a moment Panthers coach Marty Wells said no one in the program could have seen coming. But Mireles certainly provided some clues along the way.
He rushed for 2,071 yards during that sophomore season that helped open Bourff's eyes. And he added 2,460 more as a junior.
Through eight games this season, Mireles sits at 1,959 yards and the Panthers are 5-3. A victory against the rival Tigers would clinch a second-place finish in the Central Indiana Conference and set Elwood up for what it hopes will be a deep postseason run.
Much of the success, of course, can be attributed to the record-chasing running back.
"He's always carried this team throughout the years," senior wide receiver London Leavell said. "He's carried us through a lot of tough wins."
Mireles' presence opens opportunities for his teammates. Leavell scored Elwood's first touchdown last week against Frankton when Mireles' brother, quarterback Alex, fired a 25-yard strike over the top of the Eagles' defense.
It's a common practice against the eight- and nine-man fronts the Panthers routinely face.
"It's no secret we're gonna run the ball," junior center Jacob Nutt said. "It kinda helps us throw it over their heads to London. Then we just give it back to Sammy, and he does what he does best."