Capassio Cherry spends countless hours watching highlights of NFL running backs, gleaning bits and pieces he can apply to his own game.
Ultimately, the Edmonds-Woodway standout senior tailback said he tries to emulate the style of former Detroit Lions great Barry Sanders, who Cherry said he believes is the best running back of all time. But recently Cherry has been focusing on a pair of current stars, zeroing in on the patience of Le’Veon Bell and elusiveness of LeSean McCoy.
“I’m trying to install patience in my run game, but also power, speed and quickness,” Cherry said. “I probably watch hours a day of highlights, interviews, game film — all that stuff. This year, I’m really trying to take part in the mental game and boost my game up to another level.”
Cherry is already one of the area’s premier playmakers, as he demonstrated during an injury-shortened season last year while rushing for 1,221 yards and 16 touchdowns in just seven games. He averaged 8.9 yards per carry and 174 yards per contest, showcasing a unique blend of elusiveness, power and breakaway speed while helping the Warriors go unbeaten in league play to claim the Wesco 3A South crown.
“He’s very fast, he’s very elusive and he’s very powerful,” Edmonds-Woodway coach John Gradwohl said. “Backs like him are tough for one guy to take down. And if that one guy misses him, it can be a lot of trouble, because after that he’s fast enough to take it to the house.”
Cherry topped 200 yards rushing in three of his seven games last season, including a 302-yard performance in a win over Meadowdale. He displayed lethal big-play ability last year with three touchdown runs of better than 50 yards, including a 73-yarder against Woodinville and an 89-yarder against Everett.
Cherry said his biggest improvement last season was endurance, which made some of those longer runs possible.
“My sophomore year I was really top-heavy, but my legs couldn’t keep on going,” he said. “So I created a lot of endurance last year, (and) during the fourth quarter I’d break a lot of long runs. … I think that was my best strong suit — that I could go all four quarters.”
And after last year’s success, the 5-foot-10, 190-pound back certainly didn’t rest on his laurels. Between wrestling in the winter and an offseason of training, Cherry said he feels both faster and stronger.
“I reshaped my whole body,” he said. “I got leaner, faster, stronger. My speed, I feel like it’s on a whole (different) level. So I feel like if I see a seam, nobody’s catching me.”
Gradwohl praised Cherry’s work ethic in the weight room and confirmed that he’s noticeably faster than last season.
“He put the time in,” Gradwohl said. “He’s going to start this year well beyond where he left last year.”
In addition to physical talent, Gradwohl said one of Cherry’s greatest strengths is his competitive nature.
“Good running backs are very competitive,” he said “(And) if you’re competitive, you don’t go down easy. You’re competitive with yourself and you have high expectations for yourself, and that kind of bleeds out to the rest of the team. When he’s on the field, I think kids just play better.”
Cherry is a standout running back these days, but it wasn’t always that way. When he began playing youth football in fourth grade, he played left guard on the offensive line. It wasn’t until sixth or seventh grade that he began transitioning to running back.
“I was always a really heavier-set kid,” Cherry said. “As I started getting older, I started growing, slimming out, retaining strength and gaining speed.
“After a while, coach started giving me the ball because I had good athleticism for my size,” he added. “And I fell in love with running the ball.”
The only things slowing down Cherry on the football field in recent years have been injuries.
In the opening game of his eighth-grade season, Cherry suffered a non-contact injury when he broke his leg on a kickoff return and missed the rest of the year. The following season, he sprained his ankle in the second game and was sidelined for the rest of his freshman campaign.
And last season, after missing the first two games for family reasons, he suffered a sprained ankle in the regular-season finale and was sidelined for Edmonds-Woodway’s two playoff contests.
Cherry said the biggest injury challenge was mentally overcoming the broken leg he suffered in eighth grade.
“My freshman year and sophomore year it kind of affected me on the field, because in the back of my head it was still there,” he said. “But my junior year I really was able to flush it away almost completely. This year, I feel like I have no problem with that and feel like on the field I’m 100 percent.”
Cherry once again figures to play a major role in Edmonds-Woodway’s success this season, even beyond the box scores. Gradwohl lauded Cherry for his leadership and the example he sets for his teammates.
“(When you) hold yourself to a high expectation, you’re kind of a leader by example,” Gradwohl said. “You don’t have to say a lot. And when you do say something, kids respect you because they know that you wouldn’t say something you wouldn’t do yourself. They know he’s put the time in. They know he works hard … and the kids respect him for that.
“(He’s a) very likable kid amongst his peers,” Gradwohl added. “He’s just a good kid, a good person.”