Mead football's Nathan Mackey is the state's top returning rusher

Palisade Mead football

(Katie Pickrell/CHSAANow.com)

Mead coach Jason Klatt said Nathan Mackey could make a man miss in a telephone booth.

"He's probably one of the most elusive, shifty runners that I've coached. He's not a straight-line runner; he's a shifty, bounce back and forth, jump-cut kind of guy," Klatt said. "He's like a poor man's Danny Woodhead or Barry Sanders where he can really jump side to side and cut and make you miss. He's really hard to get a good, clean hit on because he's always moving."

Here's the bad news for opposing defenses: Mackey gets to use a whole lot more space than a three-foot-wide rectangular box.

"In my mind, if I'm one on one with someone, I'm not getting tackled," Mackey said. "That's my mindset and what I like most about my game — the ability to make people miss."

Mackey rushed for 1,781 yards last season — the eighth-most overall and first out of athletes who will be back for the 2017 season — along with 13 touchdowns as Mead went 9-4. It makes him the top returning rusher in the state in 2017.

"My main focus is to get three or four yards," Mackey said. "You have to put it in your head that you've got to do anything possible to get three or four yards. As soon as you get that handoff, three or four yards. Pitch, catch, anything, three or four yards. Anything you can do to get that, then our offense will be successful."

What's truly going to give defensive coordinators trouble is his multidimensional ability.

Mackey's 432 yards and five touchdowns receiving brought his total yards to 2,213. That's higher than any returning running back in the state.

"He's very versatile. He can catch the ball out of the backfield, he can block and he's willing to do those things," Klatt said. "He's turned himself into an all-around back. He's not just a get the ball and go type of guy; he's also a blocker, a pass catcher and he's really turned himself into a multi-tool player for our offense."

Add the 15 pounds that Mackey has put on this summer and he's going to give would-be tacklers nightmares, too.

"It makes it nice when you can play action fake and you can get him out in the backfield and can get him in space more by catching the ball," Klatt said. "That's definitely added a new dimension to our offense, so we're excited. There are times when people gang up to stop him. He's put on about 15 pounds of muscle this offseason, so he's developed into a tool to where I think he's a real weapon.

"His ability to move and make people miss makes him an asset. The 185 helps him because he can take a hit."

That added muscle plays even further into Mackey's game.

Palisade Mead football

(Katie Pickrell/CHSAANow.com)

"It's a really run-specific offense, so running back is an important role. But the biggest role that you have to take into account in your mindset when you're going in is that it's not a big yards game," Mackey said. "It's a four- or five-yard play. You have to get it in your head that you're not going to make those huge highlight plays.

"You're going to get four, five, or six and maybe once in awhile you break out for a longer run, but you have to have it in your head that you're going to chip away at that defense."

And that's exactly what Mackey does over and over again.

Mackey averaged just over 100 yards rushing in the playoffs as Mead charged into the semifinals after upsetting Palmer Ridge and Palisade.

"I saw that ability when he was a freshman," Klatt said. "What he's done since then, he's turned himself into more of a slot receiver where he can catch the ball in the backfield and he's turned himself into a blocker where he can step in there and block for another kid. He's really worked hard in the weight room and with his skills to get that part of it. He's always been an elusive runner."

Mead and Mackey ran into Pueblo East's burly linebackers that held him to just 61 yards as the Mavericks fell one game short of a shot at the Class 3A championship.

Mackey was held under 100 yards by two defenses last year: Pueblo East and Roosevelt.

"Those bigger linebackers at Roosevelt or Pueblo East when we play them, they were big and it's harder to get those three or four yards," Mackey said. "It was more of a struggle, but those 15 pounds will help with getting just one or two more yards after contact.

"I worked really hard on gaining that muscle and getting that muscle mass to help with getting those extra yards after contact, but I also worked hard with keeping my speed up and getting faster and keeping my agility."

Mackey is determined to build off of the deep playoff run last year.

"We don't have a banner hanging up in the gym at all for winning our conference," Mackey said. "I think that's our biggest and our first goal — even though we take it game by game — is to win conference. I think that would be our biggest step up, then as soon as we hit playoffs, we have to hit the ground running and get as far as we can."

And he's taking his team under his wing to make yet another run.

"Last year, I could take a silent leadership role and make people follow my actions, but this year it's going to be different," Mackey said. "A lot of those senior leaders last year that are gone were very vocal leaders. This year instead of just being a starter and a captain and doing what I had to do, now I have to be a starter and a captain and bring everyone else around me up to that level with my voice, not just my actions."

Klatt vouched for Mackey's actions as he reflected on the development that Mackey has made as a leader for his team.

"He's never really missed a practice. He's that type of reliable kid where he's really good in the classroom, he's a leader, he can be a vocal leader," Klatt said. "He'll tell guys what they need to do and he's very positive about it. He's just an all-around good kid. He's a hard worker, he's respectful, he's a leader to our younger guys, kids look up to him.

"I'm really proud of him. More than his running ability, but the type of kid he is and how hard he's worked."

Palisade Mead football

(Katie Pickrell/CHSAANow.com)