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Dynamic Drew: Kitchens thriving as Kernels' workhorse running back

Mitchell's Drew Kitchens (22) carries the ball during a game against Douglas last week at Joe Quintal Field in Mitchell. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Replacing Spencer Neugebauer, who rewrote the school record book at the running back position, was never going to be an easy task for the Mitchell High School football team.

But Drew Kitchens has made the transition look simple.

The junior running back is off to a great start for the top-ranked Kernels. In five games, Kitchens has run for 555 yards, averaging 111 yards per game, and six touchdowns. He's emerged as Mitchell's workhorse running back—averaging 25 carries per game. He has 72 more carries than the next back on the team.

Standing 5-foot-6 and 155 pounds, he's not the most physically intimidating running back, but his early success has been no surprise for MHS head coach Kent VanOverschelde.

"We saw what he was capable of a year ago at the JV level. He just seems to get better and he's so willing to listen," VanOverschelde said. "His success comes from his patience, but he's also proven to be explosive as well."

Kitchens has the team's longest run—an 85-yarder against Brookings on Sept. 2—and has three games of more than 100 yards rushing. It hasn't been a series of flashy runs for Kitchens, but his quickness and speed have allowed to him to average 4.5 yards per carry.

"When you see the hole, you just have to hit it," said Kitchens, who had 70 carries for 436 yards and five touchdowns in 12 games played last year. "The line does a good job opening things up, but you have to hit it right away because it closes quickly if you don't."

And for a run-heavy offense, Kitchens has proven he can handle demands of 30-plus carries per game. In last week's 22-14 win over Douglas, Kitchens had a season-high 36 carries for 144 yards and two touchdowns.

"Drew is a great young man and we're glad he's on our football team because he's been valuable," VanOverschelde said. "He feels his way through, taking what the defense will give him. The durability too, he's able to get up and get onto the next play."

With starting fullback Carson Max continuing to deal with a knee injury that forced him to miss one game and part of two other games, Kitchens' workload won't be decreasing anytime soon.

"A few bumps and bruises, but that's football," said Kitchens, who added he protects the football like its his "baby."

"You have to battle through it and do what you can," Kitchens added.

VanOverschelde said Max's knee injury isn't major, but he'll be limited week-to-week. He added the offensive line's strong play has helped Kitchens and the entire offense early in the season.

"(Drew) making plays takes the pressure off us a little more," MHS offensive lineman Mitch Schladweiler said about Kitchens. "He's kind of a greasy little guy. He just runs out there and you can't tackle him."

Mitchell's rushing attack, which is averaging 252 yards per game, has been a delicate dance between the offensive line opening up holes and Kitchens, Max and quarterback Kiel Nelson's abilities to make big plays.

"It's a great combination," VanOverschelde said. "(Kitchens) just understands the game and likes to play. He's 100 percent all the time."

Mitchell (4-1) takes on Huron at 7 p.m. Friday at Tiger Stadium in Huron.