Jeff Hoes drops into a "get" position at safety as practice winds down at Seneca Valley High School. In the foreground of the tranquil open country of Germantown, the Screaming Eagles' second-string quarterback drops back and throws a complete pass to a player Hoes should have been covering.
"Jeff, you're supposed to get the man on the post," barks an assistant coach. There is silence.
Hoes digs in with his 5-foot-9, 170-pound frame, arms bent perpendicular to his abdomen and his calf muscles taut.
The quarterback throws a 25-yard sideline pass. Hoes chases the receiver halfway across the field and knocks down the spiral.
"Much better," yells the coach. "Much better."
You only have to tell Jeff Hoes once.
And Coach Al Thomas has asked a great deal of him this season. Hoes, a tailback who also plays nickel back on defense, has responded with seven touchdowns to lead Seneca Valley to a 5-1 record. He has scored 50 points.
Last year, behind a bigger and more skilled offensive line, Hoes gained 755 yards and scored seven touchdowns. This season, following a smaller (no one over 200 pounds) line, he turned in his best performance of the year Saturday in a 6-2 upset of then-No. 1 ranked Churchill. Hoes gained 112 yards on 22 carries, and although it was one of the two times he has been held scoreless this year, his rushing was instrumental in setting up Eric Braun's 23- and 28-yard field goals.
"He (Thomas) is sometimes skeptical to give me the ball near the goal line," says Hoes, "because they're keying on me. But he has confidence in my ability."
It's ironic that Thomas relies so heavily on the diminutive Hoes rather than a bigger fullback when the team is near the end zone. But, as Thomas contends, Hoes is one of the toughest backs he has coached at Seneca Valley.
Thomas has coached some good running backs in the wingbone offense. The last was Eric Drain, an all-Met in 1981 and a starter with the Missouri Tigers of the Big Eight. But Thomas thinks Hoes is better.
"He's the best I've ever coached," says Thomas. "He's not real big, but he has lateral quickness and he's tough.
"The difference between him and Drain is that Drain was much bigger. But Hoes is a much better runner and he's faster. There are some schools looking at him, but his size is a factor. I think he can play anywhere."
Don't mention size to Hoes. He scoffs at the notion that he is too small to play college football. He's too impressive in other areas, such as speed. He's one of only four in his school to run the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds.
"My strength is to the outside," said Hoes. "Once I get outside, it's just me and the secondary."
He's tough, too. "When you go out there, you never say die," he says. "You just spin off and keep going. Just never say die."
Despite his speed and tenacity, Hoes is still waiting for colleges to show interest.
"There hasn't been much calling," he says. "It hasn't been ringing off the hook, but that's because of my size.
"I want to play college ball but everyone says I'm too small. I'm not going to argue with them. But they'll see. I'll show 'em."
If Hoes had his way he would sacrifice personal glory for team success. Last year, the Screaming Eagles atypically failed to make the playoffs. Hoes learned something from the experience.
"Sometimes you have to accept losing," he says. "But it's not easy. It doesn't matter how many yards I get. I don't care if I get zero yards. I'll take winning over losing."
Seneca Valley's success does seem to rest on Hoes' shoulders. This year he has scored two touchdowns in four of the Screaming Eagles' victories. Against Bethesda-Chevy Chase, he ran four yards for the winning score with 23 seconds left, perhaps saving his team from a second straight postseason vacation.
"Our goal is to get to College Park (site of the state championship game)," he said. "We just have to stick with it and keep our heads up."
Hoes has four more games to help the Screaming Eagles make the playoffs and give college representatives more reasons to call. "I think they will look at the films and see what a great runner he is," says Thomas. "I like to think he is Joe Cribbs or something. He's got great instincts as a runner."
Every Sunday, Hoes pulls a chair up to his television and watches Walter Payton intently. He notices the moves, the power, the self-effacing personality. He wants to be there one day. "He's the best," Hoes says.