Sutton finishes his to-do list


James Kenan running back Marcelias Sutton is the StarNews All-Area Offensive Player of the Year. The senior, an N.C. State recruit who participated in the Shrine Bowl, averaged more than eight yards per carry and earned MVP honors in team's 1AA state final victory. (Photo by Mike Spencer)


James Kenan senior Marcelias Sutton had only held a football scholarship offer from N.C. State for five days when he looked Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren in the eye and told him he wanted to accept.

For Sutton, the June meeting in Doeren's office brought instant relief. James Kenan coach Ken Avent Jr. worried the unofficial commitment would bring even more pressure.

"Everybody expects you to win, to do certain things," Avent said. "That's tough on a person."

Sutton's offensive production this fall didn't quite reach his impressive junior season, but he answered the call every time the Tigers needed him on their perfect run to the Class 1AA state title. The 5-foot-8, 180-pound running back/safety played just about every meaningful snap on both sides of the ball, pushing through a nagging thigh injury and the sky-rocketing expectations.

The StarNews All-Area Offensive Player of the Year saved his best all-around performance of the season for last. He racked up 186 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries in steady rain as James Kenan beat West Montgomery, 42-14, for its first state title since 2007. He also had a team-high nine tackles to earn most valuable player honors at BB&T Field in Winston-Salem.

"Man, it was unbelievable," Sutton said. "That's what I've been waiting for ever since I stepped into the building. To get that while I'm headed out was just the icing on the cake."

Sutton has been a major part of Avent's game plan since his freshman year, but he needed more patience this season than ever before. The speedy back took a helmet flush to his thigh early in the season, and the deep bruise restricted his speed and cutting ability for weeks.

Sutton rarely practiced during the month of September. He missed one game and played sparingly in several others.

In the team's last six regular-season games, Sutton only once had more than seven carries. Avent often rested him the entire second half when James Kenan raced out to big leads.

The coach said the captain always stayed engaged on the sideline, relishing the chance to serve as an assistant coach for the reserves.

"I'd never sat out, man," Sutton said. "I just wanted to be out on the field, playing with my boys."

Still, Avent believes Sutton could have easily cracked the 2,000-yard rushing mark, if the milestone mattered. Instead, the coach spread the carries around in his three-back system.

Sutton finished the season with 1,343 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns in 14 games, averaging more than eight yards per touch. Several area coaches said he was even better on defense this year. He played safety in the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas all-star game last week.

"He was still the same he's always been," Avent said. "He's a true team player. He was never worried about stats. He was only worried about what was best for the team and winning."

After falling a win short of the title game last fall, James Kenan carried the No. 1 state ranking and championship expectations through the season. The Tigers were pushed to the limit to survive a difficult region and capped the run with an emphatic final victory.

Sutton was back to full strength for the postseason, and he delivered. The back scored eight touchdowns in five playoff games and also led a defense that played its best with the season on the line.

Whiteville coach Luke Little said in reviewing tape of his team's 17-7 playoff loss to James Kenan he found three different runs that likely would have turned into game-changing plays if Sutton didn't fill the quickly hole and make the saving tackle.

Sutton, who plans to sign with N.C. State in February, said he felt the pressure from the outside but was more concerned with his own standards. He met them with an all-encompassing state final performance that finished with him proudly hoisting the state championship trophy for the first time.

"That's really what I wanted to do," Sutton said. "I wanted to lead my team in all areas."