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Jovanni Blackie, a Paola senior running back, turns the corner on an outside run for the Panthers. He ran for eight touchdowns.

PAOLA — Jovanni Blackie was the feature back in the Paola Panther offense that led Class 4A in rushing.

The Panthers averaged 380 yards per game, setting the standard in Class 4A.

Blackie suffered a high-ankle sprain in the first quarter of the season opener. Paola went 1-3 in the first four games as Blackie battled back from that injury.

As he came back, the Panthers went on a roll, winning five straight games.

Blackie, a Paola senior, was named the Tri-County Spotlight Football Offensive Player of the Year.

“In my time at Paola, we have been blessed with running back talent,” Paola coach Michael Dumpert said. “Our hall of fame contains Wesley Wilson, Brian Shay, Darren Dawson, Josh Shay, Jon Lee and Nathan Payne, all were all-state backs. Jovanni Blackie possesses many of the traits and characteristics of these hall of fame athletes.

“He is that combination of speed, power and vision that separates him from most backs,” Dumpert said. “Jovanni had a high ankle sprain game one, first quarter, and this greatly affected his ability to plant and cut and to drive off that leg for the first half of the season. As Jovanni and others began to heal, we won five games in a row which included beating two teams who made it to the regional round during the playoffs.”

Blackie ran the ball 193 times for 1,342 yards. He averaged 21 carries per game and 6.95 yards per attempt. Blackie ran for eight touchdowns.

He was a team leader for the Paola Panthers who did his talking on the field.

“Jovanni by nature is a quiet guy,” Dumpert said. “He let his play do the talking for him.”

Blackie had to reinvent himself as a running back after the injury, Dumpert said.

“Due to the ankle injury he had to change his running style to more of a power runner,” Dumpert said. “He lowered low pads with shoulders over the toes, downhill, one-cut runner. This is an indication of how talented he is. Running is an instinctive reaction-based activity and to be able to adjust your running style while injured requires smarts and athleticism. We are proud of his accomplishments and the person he has grown into.”

Sports Editor Gene Morris can be reached at (913) 294-2311 or gene.morris@miconews.com.

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