SHARON HILL — Jerry Lanier needed a kick in the backside in the worst way, sometime before his junior year at Academy Park.
Lanier always had the potential, but he was, by his own admission, wasting it away.
"My attitude changed,' Lanier said. "I never wanted to go to the weight room in ninth and 10th grade. I was thinking, I didn't need it, just based on my talent. I don't know why I was thinking that way.'
It wasn't working. Though his bad habits weren't completely behind him, Lanier won the starting running back job out of summer camp in 2012, leading into his junior year. He impressed his coaches, but Lanier was put in that spot mostly out of necessity.
"Prior to his junior year, the JV coaches talked about how we was really good,' Academy Park coach Jason Vosheski said. "He basically got the shot as a running back because of attrition, with guys going down with nagging injuries during summer camp. When he had his opportunities, he basically got the ball and ran with it.'
But he wasn't out of the woods yet. Lanier didn't always show the desire to put in the work mandated by Vosheski and his coaching staff, and Lanier eventually paid the price.
"The turning point for Jerry in the weight room and with his work ethic, was the Pennridge game his junior year,' Vosheski said. "We lift during the season, so he would cut out on weight room on Wednesday. We would give him the opportunity on Thursday to make up for it, but he cut out again. So we sat him pretty much the whole first half against Pennridge. That was probably one of the early motivational moments for him.'
Finally, something clicked. Lanier found out the hard way that he would not receive special treatment because he was the team's No. 1 running back. He finally began to take the sport he has loved very seriously and make the commitment that was asked of him.
"I noticed that varsity is a different story. It took me a while, but I started to understand that,' Lanier said. "You can't go off of only your talent, you have to build strength and speed. My dad pushed me, but I wasn't always listening. My (youth football coaches) told me that if I worked hard, I could be the starting running back here and I could be great. And then Coach Vo gave me my shot.'
Lanier would go on to become the best running back in the county for two years. An argument can be made that Lanier is one of the greatest running backs in Delaware County history, after a memorable senior season, punctuated with the program's first District One Class AAA championship. Lanier's amazing season earned him 2013 Daily Times Player of the Year honors.
"I didn't know that it would be to the point where I could be one of the best,' Lanier said. "I just had to put my mind to it and put in the hard work, and show it on Fridays and Saturdays, whenever we played. That's all I was thinking.'
As Player of the Year, Lanier headlines the 2013 All-Delco team, which is selected after consultation with county coaches. Lanier is one of four Academy Park players named All-Delco.
Joining Lanier on All-Delco offense are quarterback Chris Rossiter (Upper Darby), running backs Shaaheen Dow (Glen Mills) and Vince Razzano (Garnet Valley), wide receivers De'Andre Pendergrass (Upper Darby) and Thaddius Smith (Cardinal O'Hara), tight end Evan Butts (Episcopal Academy), and linemen Dave Bertone (Garnet Valley), Shane Stabinski (Garnet Valley), Connor Walsh (Garnet Valley), John Durkin (Bonner-Prendergast) and Matt Gould (Interboro).
The All-Delco defensive team consists of linemen Joe Granahan (Garnet Valley), Chip Rossino (Haverford High) and Tre Easter-Geary (Glen Mills), linebackers Douglas Coburn (Glen Mills), Sonny Armstrong (Interboro), Adam Krauter (Springfield) and Tyler Shankle (Garnet Valley), and defensive backs Marlin Jackson (Academy Park), Jai Thornton (Haverford High), Cyrus Barlee (Upper Darby) and Kevin White (Upper Darby).
Academy Park quarterback Brian Ingram and Academy Park linebacker/wide receiver Jamar Dembry were selected for their all-purpose abilities, while Cardinal O'Hara's Steve Weyler is the specialist. Lanier, Weyler and Butts are two-time All-Delcos.
Lanier had stiff competition for the Player of the Year award with Rossiter and Butts. In the end, though, it's hard to dispute the season Lanier enjoyed on Calcon Hook Road. The numbers speak for themselves. Simply put, Lanier was one of the greatest running backs the county has seen since Kevin Jones (Cardinal O'Hara) in the early 2000s.
Lanier is Academy Park's all-time leading rusher with 3,889 yards, a number that is good for seventh all-time in county lore. Remarkably, Lanier accrued the bulk of his career yardage over a span of only two seasons.
This year, Lanier nearly became the county's all-time single-season rushing champion, falling 17 yards shy of the record set by Sun Valley's Tony Canci in 2004. Nevertheless, Lanier's 2,306 yards is the best output by a county running back since Upper Darby's Simoni Marco Lawrence, who rushed for 2,136 yards in 2005.
"I don't think I saw him being this good. He makes everyone on the offense look like all-stars,' Vosheski said. "We've had backs before that were good and took care of the ball, but I don't think any coach actually forsees a kid being this good.'
Lanier was never taken aback by his ability to make defenders miss and look foolish on a weekly basis. Every time he took the ball, there's was a great chance he would take it to the house.
Lanier envisioned himself as a running back. It's a position he played for the Darby Township Eagles.
"Until I got into the ninth grade and I was a receiver,' he said. "I changed back to running back eventually. Good thing that I did.'
Lanier is a humble, quiet kid who leads by his actions on the field. He can be cocky (what great running back isn't?) but respectful of his teammates and opposing players. In interviews, he would often give credit to his offensive line and players from the other team.
"It's weird for a kid that age that he's so humble,' Vosheski said. "He walks with swagger and dresses with swagger, but he's not a me-me-me kind of kid.'
Lanier's career ended last weekend when the Knights dropped a 42-14 decision to Archbishop Wood in the PIAA Class AAA quarterfinals. In typical Jerry Lanier fashion, he got into the end zone twice, but fell short of 100 yards for only the second time this year.
Now Lanier is focused on improving his grades so that he can play football at a junior college. If everything goes according to his plan, Lanier will transfer to a Division III or II program after a few years at a JUCO.
Football is such a big part of Lanier's essence, he can't imagine life without it.
"I can't picture myself without playing football,' he said. "It feels weird. Sometimes, when I think about it, it makes me cry. What would I do without football?'
The chances are good we haven't heard the last of Jerry Lanier.