Junior JR Tran-Reno (9) has taken his transition from quarterback to running back to heart. Photo by Todd Kwarcinski.

Taking it in stride

One play changed the trajectory of JR Tran-Reno’s football career.

As the quarterback of the junior varsity team during his freshman season, Tran- Reno broke off a big play and scored a touchdown on a long run.

The next day, Briarwood Christian School head coach Fred Yancey approached him with an idea.

Tran-Reno recalled, “Coach Yancey came up and said, ‘I want to work you some at running back.’ It just kind of went on from there.”

He could have been a little disappointed or selfish, seeing how the quarterbacks get the lion’s share of the glory with most football teams. But not Tran-Reno. He took the move in stride.

“I was excited,” he said. “I had played some in little league and always liked running the ball from the quarterback position anyways.”

“Had he been one of these guys that was a little on the spoiled side and had to have his way, that would’ve made it hard for him and for us,” Yancey said. “But that didn’t happen, and we were able to get him on the field with a good quarterback.”

Had Tran-Reno stayed at quarterback, he would have spent much of the 2016 season on the sidelines, biding his time as the backup quarterback to William Gray, who led the Lions to a 12-2 record and an appearance in the Class 5A semifinals.

Yancey did not want to wait another year to get Tran-Reno’s skill set on the fi eld, so the move to running back was made. With Wilson Hand and Barrett Tindall with experience in the Lions backfi eld already, there wasn’t the immediate pressure to take on the brunt of the load from the start. This allowed Tran-Reno to gain comfort with his new position.

“He’s already tough enough and fast enough to play any position, you’ve just got to play it,” Yancey said. “As the year went on, he just kept getting better.”

Tran-Reno settled into his spot more with each passing Friday night and was the featured back in the Briarwood offense by the time the regular season wound down. The next step in his development would produce one of the eye-popping moments of Briarwood’s season.

“He’s already tough enough and fast enough to play any position, you’ve just got to play it.”

“There came a time I realized what I needed to tell him next was he didn’t have to run into everybody and run over them,” Yancey said. “There are times that you’ve got to get in the corner and smack folks, but there are other times that you use your talent and you just don’t get tackled.”

That advice was taken to heart, at times no more obvious than a jet sweep in the fourth quarter of Briarwood’s quarterfinal win over Mortimer Jordan.

“I got the ball and I saw the guy,” said Tran-Reno, who fi nished that game with 161 yards on 24 carries. “He kept going low on me in the game. I had seen people do it on SportsCenter and stuff like that, so I was like, ‘why not?’ It just kind of happened.”

The “it” he is referring to was a hurdle clear over the defender en route to the end zone for a touchdown run that effectively sealed the game’s outcome. Tran-Reno leapt over the would-be tackler around the 5-yard line and dove into the end zone upon landing.

The whole game in and of itself was Tran-Reno’s de facto coming out party as a running back.

“How he played against Mortimer Jordan and the end (of the season) versus where he was to start was just a matter of maturing and getting reps and experience and just fi guring it out,” Yancey said.

Tran-Reno believes his speed and pass-catching ability are traits that set him apart from other running backs of equal ilk, and has made an impression at numerous camps that he attended over the summer.

“(College coaches) really like my athleticism and size. They like my speed,” he said.

Some colleges have also expressed interest in Tran-Reno on the defensive side of the ball, something he does not have any official experience with to this point. The main thing he mentioned that he wanted to improve heading into his junior campaign was his lateral quickness.

This fall, Tran-Reno is expected to receive the bulk of the carries at running back, as Michael Hiers has performed well enough throughout the offseason to not make the Briarwood coaching staff feel pressured to move Tran-Reno back to the signal-caller’s role. But that doesn’t mean he won’t get his share of direct snaps. In fact, Yancey said that will certainly be part of the offense.

“Oh yeah, definitely,” Yancey said. “We’re going to look for different ways to get him the ball. We’re going to look for ways for him to throw the ball too.”

For Tran-Reno, the ultimate goal this fall is to win the state championship, and he has proven he has the talent to fl ourish in his role to help that cause. But Yancey, a coach with many years of experience under his belt, sees good things for Tran-Reno even further down the road.

“The Lord’s blessed JR with some real nice abilities,” Yancey said. “JR’s been faithful to work with those abilities, and that’s the key. That’s going to carry him, not just in football, not just in his high school days, but I think JR’s going to be a guy that, the rest of his life, will have an understanding that he’s been given the ability to be successful.