Capassio Cherry took a toss sweep to the right side and was surrounded by red Snohomish uniforms. It looked like the play was headed for lost yardage.
But like he did so often this season, the Edmonds-Woodway star running back created something spectacular out of nothing.
Cherry stopped on a dime, cut back against the grain, burst through a crease and raced down the opposite sideline for a 50-yard touchdown run.
“Snohomish played it as well as you can, and there was nothing there,” Edmonds-Woodway coach John Gradwohl said. “I mean, Snohomish ate that play up. … They defended it perfectly, and he still took it to the house.”
It was one of countless highlight-reel plays this season for Cherry, who rushed for 2,021 yards and 25 touchdowns on a team with widespread youth and inexperience. The standout tailback averaged 8.2 yards per carry and 202 yards rushing per game, accounting for nearly two-thirds of the Warriors’ total offense while elevating a struggling team to a strong second half of the season.
For his exceptional senior campaign, Cherry is The Herald’s 2018 All-Area Offensive Player of the Year for prep football.
“What he was able to accomplish on a team that was struggling was pretty amazing,” Gradwohl said.
The 5-foot-9, 185-pounder showcased his unique blend of power, elusiveness and speed with six 200-yard rushing performances and a pair of 300-yard games. Cherry ran for 305 yards and five touchdowns against Marysville Pilchuck, and a season-high 351 yards and four scores in an overtime loss to Wesco 3A champion Snohomish.
“He single-handedly almost won that game for us,” Gradwohl said.
Adding to the impressiveness of Cherry’s season was the fact opposing defenses were frequently loading the box in an effort to slow him down.
“We put in an entirely different defense just … to try to stop Capassio,” Meadowdale coach Matt Leonard said. “And he still had 200-some yards on us.”
Though not a big back, Cherry possessed the strength and power to break tackles and run through defenders.
“He’s one of those guys you never want to be one-on-one with in open space,” Gradwohl said. “He’s a tough guy to take down one-on-one. … Even if you did bring him down for a nine- or 10-yard gain, it’s almost a defensive victory because he’s so hard to bring down.”
Yet what made Cherry so dangerous was his ability to complement that hard-running style with superb vision, explosive cuts and breakaway speed. He was a constant big-play threat who broke eight touchdown runs of 50-plus yards, including a 92-yard score against Everett and a 74-yarder against Meadowdale. He even contributed on special teams, returning a kickoff for a touchdown.
“Capassio sticks his foot in the ground and goes vertical as fast and hard as he can,” Leonard said. “Once he’s doing that — once he’s got his shoulders squared and going downhill — he’s so open-field fast.
“He can run away from you, he can lower his pads and run through you and he has tremendous vision to be able to cut at full speed going downhill. He gets on you so fast. It’s like watching an NFL back hit the hole, because there’s just no hesitation.”
For as brilliant as Cherry’s season was, it came with plenty of challenges.
After graduating numerous key players from the previous season and with a couple of starting linemen out for the first few games, Edmonds-Woodway stumbled to an 0-4 start while facing a tough opening slate of opponents.
“We were really struggling up front with new guys (on the offensive line),” Gradwohl said. “We had two key injuries to start the year on the line before we even played our first game, and we were already young up there. We had a new quarterback situation. We had new receivers. We were just young everywhere.”
Cherry had little space to run early in the season, with several linemen playing out of position to fill spots. But as players returned and the line began to gel — and the Warriors developed a bit of a passing game to create some balance in their attack — Cherry began putting up eye-popping numbers.
Over the final seven games of the season, he averaged 9.3 yards per carry and 254 yards per contest. The wins also started coming, with Cherry leading Edmonds-Woodway to four victories in its final six games.
Gradwohl said Cherry’s leadership and work ethic was integral to the Warriors’ second-half turnaround.
“He had that attitude: ‘We’re getting better, we’re going to get there,’” Gradwohl said. “We were 0-4 — and it wasn’t a very pretty 0-4 — and he’s one of the first guys out to practice working his tail off, because (he believed) we’re going to get a win and we’re going to start something here.
“Beyond all the physical things he did, his attitude was the most important part of it.”
Gradwohl also praised Cherry for his relentless work ethic in the weight room this past offseason. Cherry already was one of the area’s premier running backs last year, when he rushed for more than 1,200 yards and 16 touchdowns during an injury-shortened junior campaign. But after an offseason of training that included wrestling and track, Cherry was even stronger, faster and more durable.
“He worked his tail off in the offseason,” Gradwohl said. “He didn’t just go through the motions. He pushed it to the limit pretty much every day. He’s not a very big guy, but he’s super strong. And I think that showed this year.”
Cherry said one of the motivating factors to his increased offseason work was a drive to play football in college.
“Throughout the other years in high school, I still worked hard, but I just really didn’t think that the next level was an option,” he said. “And this year, going into my senior year, I was like, ‘You know, what I really want to do is play football at the next level.’
“So after my junior season, I did wrestling, track, worked on my speed and was in the weight room 24/7 just trying to get bigger, faster and stronger.”
Cherry said he currently has a few options for playing at the next level, but is waiting to determine the best fit academically and athletically.
“I think some of these college coaches look at him (as being) kind of undersized,” Gradwohl said. “But man, he’s packed with power. He’s stronger than most running backs coming out of high school, if not all.
“I would overlook his size and look at everything else he brings to the table. … I think whoever gets him is going to be very pleasantly surprised at his talent.”
Even though his prep football career is over, Gradwohl said Cherry’s impact still resonates within the program, especially since he still works out in the weight room most days after school.
“His leadership last year has carried over already into this year and what we’re doing in the offseason,” Gradwohl said. “He gave such a great example of just what it takes. … It’s always nice when your best player is a great kid and a great leader.”