Highland Park’s backfield back at full strength

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Jarae Ward entered the 2013 season as the Highland Park football team’s starting running back, but hamstring and turf toe injuries kept the senior sidelined since the first game of the year.

While Ward rehabbed his injuries, the backfield duties went to fellow senior Kelshawn Shields, who thrived in the role. With Ward returning to the field in Week 7 — he scored a touchdown in a 46-16 win over Maine East Friday — the two are in competition for carries, but that hasn’t hurt their friendship.

“He’s one of my closest friends, on and off the field,” Shields said of Ward.

The pair shares a bond that comes, in part, from the many parallels in their young lives. Both come from, as coach Hal Chiodo put it, “very disciplined, typical military families.” Both are transplants to Highland Park: Shields lived in Texas and Ward lived in Japan.

“We’re close,” Ward said. “We come from similar backgrounds. We live in the same neighborhood.”

And while they play the same position, that’s where their on-field similarities end.

“Kelshawn’s more of the power back. He runs very hard,” Ward said. “He’s a downhill runner. He can move a pile and get three, four, five yards after contact.”

He also has a move that Chiodo doesn’t see from many players in the area.

“He’s a cut-and-run guy,” Chiodo said. “He learned the jump cut while he was in Texas.”

Ward’s running style is more about making players miss than running over them.

“I feel like I’m more of a speed back,” he said. “If I get to the edge, it’ll be hard for the other team to catch me.”

Ward is excited about the prospect of splitting playing time and seeing the ways in which the different styles complement one another.

“Now that we’re both healthy and the offense is opening up a bit, (the carries) will be balanced between us,” Ward said. “The more we can split the carries, the harder it will be on a defense having to game plan for both of us.”

“It’ll give other teams a hard time trying to adjust,” Shields said. “If they try to key on me, he can have a big game. If they key on him, I’ll have the big game.”

If Ward and Shields can stay healthy and split carries, they should remain fresh deeper into games, which will be a factor as the Giants (6-1, 3-0 CSL North) look to capture a conference championship and make a run in the state playoffs.

“I’ve still got my fingers crossed that it’ll work out before the end of the season,” Chiodo said.

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