Varsity Xtra: T.D. Express -- Aliquippa tandem is racking up historical numbers



They used to crawl together. Then they walked together.

Now, Dravon Henry and Terry Swanson are about to run together, hand-in-hand, into WPIAL history.

Henry and Swanson are Aliquippa High School senior running backs who have known each other since their toddler days. They have played together since they were "twerps," and it wouldn't be hyperbole to say they are about to become the best one-two rushing punch in WPIAL football history.

Varsity Xtra: Previewing WPIAL quarterfinal games

The PG's Mike White and Terry Shields look over the WPIAL high school football quarterfinal pairings and make predictions. (Video by Melissa Tkach: 11/4/2013)

Henry enters tonight's WPIAL Class AA quarterfinals with 5,220 yards rushing for his career. Swanson has 3,756. No two running backs from the same backfield and the same school class have ever rushed for 4,000 yards each.

The WPIAL history book better get ready for a chapter on the T.D. Express (Terry and Dravon).

"Huh. We never realized that," Henry said, when told no two WPIAL running backs on the same team have ever rushed for 4,000 yards.

In an office inside the Aliquippa locker room, Henry glanced at Swanson, and Swanson looked back at his longtime friend with surprise.

"I guess that would be special," Swanson said. "The accolades are nice, but the ultimate goal here is to win a state championship."

Aliquippa is a heavy favorite tonight against Quaker Valley. A win means another game and means Swanson has a good chance to reach 4,000, needing only 244 yards.

Only 58 runners in WPIAL history have reached 4,000 career yards. The closest any school has come to having two in the same backfield is Greensburg Central Catholic. Max Suter surpassed 4,000 yards as a senior in 2006. David Miller was a seldom-used freshman on that team and got three carries the entire season. He also surpassed 4,000 yards as a senior.

"I don't know if people really realize how unusual it is to have two running backs do what they've done," Aliquippa coach Mike Zmijanac said. "The other thing that people don't realize is that they've done this without playing a lot in a lot of games [because of Aliquippa blowouts] and we really didn't play them together much until this season."

Henry and Swanson are having a memorable season. Both have more than 1,000 yards rushing. Henry is averaging 17.4 yards per carry and Swanson 13.2.

Consider all the great Aliquippa players over the years (five graduates went on to become first-round NFL draft picks), consider the great tradition, and Henry and Swanson might have a place by themselves in Aliquippa lore. Before a practice earlier this week, they sat down and talked about their long-standing friendship, their talents and life in Aliquippa:

When was the first time you two ever met?

DH: Like, when we were crawling. Seriously, we always knew each other. I grew up with him. I used to go to my grandma's house and we used to meet and go to the playground or something. We were always competitive with each other. I used to always beat him in one-on-one basketball. I'd beat him so bad [laugh] he would have snot running down his nose and start crying.

TS: That was true [laugh]. But he used to always be stronger than me. Now I'm stronger and I've got everything now.

DH: He's still my little 'bro' and he'll still never beat the big 'bro.'

When was the first time you played together?

DH: For the "twerps" team, when we were 5 or 6. We were the last Aliquippa team to win a "twerps" championship until this year.

TS: Ask our "twerps" coach. We scored, like, every other play.

Shouldn't you two have a nickname?

DH: Last year, someone came up with Thunder And Lightning. Me as Lightning and he as Thunder.

TS: They also came up with Beauty And The Beast 2.

And who is Beauty?

TS: Him, because of his running style.

What about T.D. Express, you know for Terry and Dravon?

DH: Ohhh, that's a new one.

TS: That's a good one.

Who's faster?

TS: Him.

DH: Yeah, but he's probably a little stronger. Like by this much. I'd say a half a pound [laugh].

Who talks more?

TS: Him, no doubt. He's Chad Ochocinco.

DH: You have to work to get Terry to talk. But if you get in his head, he'll start opening up

Who is more of the ladies man?

DH: I ain't answering that because I might get in trouble with my girlfriend, because this is going in the newspaper, right?

TS: I don't know. We'll just say ... ahhh ... Let's say no comment.

How is recruiting going?

DH: Mine is a little smoother because I've narrowed things down to Ohio State, West Virginia, Pitt and Alabama. I'm looking at a few others like Louisville and UCLA, but I probably won't visit anywhere until after the season.

TS: I can't narrow things down yet because there is always someone else coming in. Toledo, Temple, Akron, Ohio, Kent State. Those are some of the ones that have offered.

Is there any stereotype of Aliquippa that bothers you guys?

TS: I think you sometimes get put in a category if you're from Aliquippa. People think we're all hoodlums. But I think this team is a good group.

DH: There are so many distractions in Aliquippa and you can just sink right in them. If you make it out of Aliquippa, you can make it out of anywhere. You just have to have a good head on your shoulders and stay focused. I think me and Terry and others are doing that.

We're not just hoodlums, like outsiders might think. People see us for just football, football. They don't see the other things we do. Look at our grades. Me and Terry were almost always on the honor roll growing up. I've pretty much always had a 3.0 [grade-point average].

TS: I have about a 3.2.

Why is it tough growing up in Aliquippa?

DH: Where I live in Plan 12 it's tough. You could ride down the street right now and see a couple people selling drugs. I face obstacles every day walking home. I could say, 'Alright, I'm coming over there and chilling with them the rest of the day.' But I should go home and just read my books -- and that's what I do. I think I've been good.

TS: I live in Plan 11 and there is a lot of activity going on. I thank my parents for helping keep me out of situations.

You both live with your mom and dad. Is that an advantage having both parents involved in your life?

DH: A lot of our teammates have single-parent homes and it's hard. Almost everybody here is living with a single parent or grandma. But you have to be better than that missing parent.

TS: You need things like your mom's love and your dad's protection. But at some point, you can't always use the excuse that you only have a single parent.

Do you have anything to say about each other?

DH: He might not know it, but Terry pushes me every day. If it's up to me, he's a better running back than me. I think he's very underrated. He should have Pitt, Ohio State and West Virginia after him. What don't they see in him like they see in other kids.

TS: He's a hard worker, a very focused young man and if he keeps like that, then he's going to go far.

Not your average back

Over the past five seasons, no one has run the ball at a better clip than Aliquippa's Dravon Henry in 2013. And his teammate Terry Swanson isn't too far behind. Here's a look at yearly yards-per-carry leaders since 2009:

Dravon Henry

Year: Att./Yds./Avg.

Freshman: 96/820/8.5

Sophomore: 196/1,473/7.5

Junior: 197/1,919/9.7

Senior: 58/1,008/17.4

Total: 547/5,220/9.5

Terry Swanson

Freshman: 38/151/4.0

Sophomore: 144/932/6.4

Junior: 140/1,546/11.0

Senior: 83/1,127/13.2

Total: 405/3,756/9.2

Terrific tandems

Who are some other notable district dynamic duos at running back over the years? Here are a few to remember, along with one terrific trio:

Dan Towler and Roscoe Ross, Donora 1944-45 -- Donora won back-to-back titles with this duo in the backfield. The 1944 team is considered one of the greatest in WPIAL history and also featured stud quarterback Arnold Galiffa. Towler went on to play professionally and led the NFL in rushing one year. Ross scored 20 TDs in 1944. In 1944 and '45, Donora outscored teams 621-55.

Ron Markowski and Frank Boal, Central Catholic 1964 -- Central Catholic played in the Catholic League and not the WPIAL, but Markowski and Boal led the Vikings to the first undefeated season in school history. Boal went on to have an excellent career at Villanova while Markowski played minor-league baseball after being taken in the eighth round of the 1965 Major League Baseball draft.

Pat Monroe and Jeff Gedman, Duquesne 1977 -- The Dukes outscored opponents, 328-51, and won a WPIAL title. Monroe, who played at Penn State, easily surpassed 1,000 yards and Gedman had close to 1,000 -- and this was only in 10 games.

Pedro Bowman and Darnell Stone, Thomas Jefferson 1980 -- Bowman and Stone helped the Jaguars upset Aliquippa in the WPIAL title game at Pitt Stadium as Bowman ran for 203 yards. For the season, Bowman ran for 1,495 yards and Stone 1,153. Stone went on to play fullback at Pitt and Bowman at Duquesne.

Doug Whaley and Pete Habib, Upper St. Clair 1989 -- Upper St. Clair was the first WPIAL team to go 15-0 and win a PIAA title. Whaley, who played defensive back at Pitt and is now general manager of the Buffalo Bills, finished with 1,820 rushing yards. Habib, despite missing a few games with an injury, had 1,070 yards.

Kevin Rock, Mike McKnight and John Craig, North Allegheny 1990 -- It's questionable if any WPIAL team has ever had three 1,000-yard rushers, but that's exactly what NA had. Rock finished with 1,116, McKnight 1,103 and Craig 1,068. The Tigers ran the wing-T offense, which was directed by QB Paul Failla, and won WPIAL and PIAA titles.

Jermaine Cromerdie and Glenn Allen, McKeesport 1994 -- The Tigers, WPIAL and PIAA champs, had a super linebacker in Brandon Short, but their running game out of the wishbone offense was lethal. Cromerdie ran for more than 1,300 yards, Allen for more than 800 and QB Bill Isbir was a master at directing the option.

DeWayne Thompson and Victor Strader, Penn Hills 1995 -- Penn Hills had a bruising running attack and it led the Indians to a 15-0 record and WPIAL and PIAA titles. Both Thompson and Strader were juniors, and each finished with more than 1,600 yards rushing.


For more on high school sports, go to "Varsity Blog" at www.post-gazette.com/varsityblog. Mike White: mwhite@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1975 and Twitter @mwhiteburgh

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