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The Leaders of the Backs

Norco's Gerhart breaks the state's career rushing record with a 299-yard performance.

November 11, 2005|Dan Arritt | Times Staff Writer

It came on a simple dive play midway through the third quarter Thursday night at Corona High.

Toby Gerhart, as he'd done a hundred times before, blasted up the middle on third-down-and-four, and gained five yards.

First down, and just like that California had a new high school career rushing leader.

The Norco High senior now has 8,632 rushing yards and a record, he said afterward, that "hasn't sunk in yet."

More important, to him and his father Todd, Norco's head coach, his team had a 22-15 victory that improved its record to 9-1 and boosted it from a possible fourth-place finish into the playoffs and a three-way tie for the Mountain View League title.

"Everyone will see the record in the paper," said Coach Gerhart, a former Cal State Fullerton running back who played in the United States Football League, "but they won't know the significance of the last run that won the game and put us in the playoffs."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday November 13, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 45 words Type of Material: Correction
High school football -- An article and chart in some editions of Friday's Sports section about Toby Gerhart of Norco High School said his 299-yard performance Thursday gave him a state career rushing record of 8,794 yards. In fact, Gerhart has a record 8,632 yards.

Actually, it wasn't his last run, but an 11-yard carry with 7 minutes 39 seconds left in the game that provided the margin of victory. Typically, Gerhart dragged a stubborn defender the final three yards and into the end zone on that one.

And even then he wasn't finished.

He also gained 52 yards on eight more carries as Norco ran out the final 3:20 of the game. Gerhart had 299 yards and three touchdowns in 34 carries, giving him 2,219 yards and 25 touchdowns in 182 carries this season.

"I'm just glad we left here with a victory," he said.

Before Thursday, the state career mark belonged to Lorenzo Booker, Florida State's leading rusher, who ran for 8,495 yards for Ventura St. Bonaventure from 1999 to 2001.

And to think that football might not even be Gerhart's best sport.

A power-hitting, base-stealing outfielder, 6-feet-1, 225-pound Gerhart wowed professional scouts last summer in tests of speed, power, agility, reaction and quickness at the Area Code Games, baseball's biggest annual amateur showcase.

College recruiters have been told Gerhart wants to play both sports in college, and Stanford currently tops his choices. USC is apparently out -- the Trojans wanted him to switch to fullback -- but UCLA is in the mix, as is Utah, where he visited last week, and Mississippi, where he will be visiting starting today.

Of course, professional baseball could be an option, Gerhart having batted .547 with seven home runs, 18 doubles and 25 stolen bases for Norco in the spring before he really impressed scouts with his play over the summer.

However, the professional ranks may have to wait because there's also this: Gerhart is as determined a student as he is an athlete. He has never received a grade lower than "A" on a report card -- even while accompanying his mother to some classes at a local community college, where he has accumulated enough credit to academically be considered a college sophomore.

His well-rounded resume has earned Gerhart plenty of admirers.

"He's like a man among boys," said Corona Centennial Coach Matt Logan, whose teams Gerhart has torched for more than 1,000 yards rushing in four games the past two years.

"He is an adult," Todd Gerhart said.

And acts like one, well, except for those few superstitions Toby clings to -- the ones that call for him to eat spaghetti the night before a game, enter his neighbor's Jacuzzi at exactly 8 p.m. after that, and then eat at a fast food joint before finishing up at a certain Mexican restaurant on game day.

He switched the order, eating Mexican first and then fast food, once this season, and the Cougars lost.

Typically, though, Gerhart handles himself in such a mature, humble manner that he has managed to avoid some of the petty jealousies that often arise when a young athlete stars in a system controlled by his father.

Gerhart's biggest game of the season came against rival Centennial when he ran for 441 yards and six touchdowns in a 42-21 victory, and Todd says 500 yards would have been surpassed on other occasions if he were inclined to run up his son's statistics against weaker opponents.

Rival coaches, some of whom seemed genuinely excited for Toby as he approached the record, back that claim.

"I don't think they give it to him enough some times," Centennial's Logan said. "When they are playing a weaker opponent, they spread the ball around."

Gerhart also gets credit from opponents for gaining tough yards in tough games. For example, in Norco's only loss, he gained 135 yards despite a calf injury that prompted his father to try to limit his participation.

Successful in sitting Toby out for most of the first half, Todd found it more difficult as time on the clock wound down and Norco and Corona Santiago were still tied, 7-7. In the second half, the coach said, "I'd see Toby in there and I'd pull him out a play and he'd run back in. I'd pull him out a play and he'd run back in.... I'd pull him out a play and he'd run back in."

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