LOCK HAVEN - It's been a long time since Lock Haven University football had a 1,000-yard rusher.
A really, really, really long time. More than 30 years.
That streak almost came to an end last year.
Credit that to Brandon Brader and The Haven offensive line.
"I think I had a good season. Could I have had a better season? Yes," the tailback said. "The best thing was the backs and the line worked real well together, and communicated real well. That was important, and that's something we could build upon this season."
A rushing game.
Honestly, it's one area of the offense that's been missing in recent years.
Actually, almost non-existent.
Ibby Smith had 520 yards in 2007.
Maurice Walker almost reached 1,000 yards in 2004, ending with 925 after a good string of years between 2001 and 2003.
In recent seasons, the numbers pretty much speak for themselves.
LHU's leading rushing in 2010 had 265 yards. The Haven's leading ballcarrier in 2009 had 142 yards. It wasn't much better in 2008. Barely cracked the 200-yard barrier in 2006.
That all changed with Brader and the line in 2011.
"The line did a great job," the red-shirt sophomore back said. "Before, we ran a lot out of the gun, but last year, we used a lot of two tight sets. Coach ran a downhill kind of offense where our line worked hard. We are working well together.
"We improved in a lot of ways that people couldn't tell. We came together as a team and worked hard. I think we had a turn-around within ourselves."
Two reasons, really.
No. 1, continuity. The five men up front were a gelled unit. The same five started almost the entire season together.
"The continuty was big," LHU head coach John Allen said. "We only lost one lineman at the end of the season. They are smart, and played together. And the schemes were the same from week to week. They really got a chance to learn and play alongside each other. And that helps. The backs need that continuity up front, and need to understand what is going to happen. They need to be confident that what they see is going to happen."
No. 2, the emergence of Brader, a standout in his high school years at former Quad-A state champ Bethlehem Liberty who rushed for more than 1,000 yards and 20 touchdowns in his career.
"He's a trememdous kid," LHU running backs coach Jim Renninger said. "He's so competitive, and has great vision and balance. The thing that separtes him from being a Division I back is that he's a little undersized. He's about 185 pounds. But I love his competitiveness. He has all the tools - quickness and explosiveness. He just loves to play.
"When the running backs know what the guys up front are doing, and the guys up front really understand the blocking schemes, it leads to success. They continue to get better each. Football is such a chemistry game, and a reaction game."
That's why you could see the confidence as the Bald Eagles head into the spring game.
The offseason was spent lifting and gelling.
"I won't lie, it was tough," Brader said. "It wasn't easy. We were in the weight room like four times a week. And I think there is a better understanding. I definitely know what he wants now. He did a good job with recruiting a lot of good athletes, and I think we are going to be 10 times better in the fall. I'm excited for the season coming up."
Just looking around the field, the coaches can see it too.
Team practice may begin at 4:30 p.m., but the players are on the field 30 minutes early - working through drills on their own to get some extra reps in.
The hunger is still there.
"Everyone got bigger and stronger in the offseason," Renninger said. "The kids are excited about being competitive. They want to get some wins now. The line is better, and the backs as a whole are better. You can see the athletes on defense are stronger. The kids expect to win some ballgames."
The team's annual spring game is slated for 12 p.m. next Saturday.