Wade Hewitt travels the professional and college stadiums of the United States as a television camera operator for ESPN.
But it’s doubtful he’ll ever shoot an individual performance as electric as the one he witnessed by his own son Friday night at O’Fallon High School. Mason Hewitt, a senior running back at O’Fallon, was a one-man highlight reel in the Panthers’ 70-28 romp over Belleville East.
His 346 yards on 26 carries put him over 1,600 for the season, breaking the school’s single-season rushing record. An 82-yard kick return and six touchdowns also likely helped O’Fallon clinch its seventh playoff berth in the last eight seasons and makes Hewitt the BND Player of the Week.
“It was almost like a half a season in one game,” said Panthers coach Brandon Joggerst, in his 10th season at O’Fallon. “As crazy as it sounds, we expect a lot from him and weren’t really surprised by what happened Friday. He’s had big outbursts throughout the season. He’s really earned the record and to think he got there in the eighth week is just awesome.”
Since opening the season with 88 yards on 16 carries against Hazelwood Central, Hewitt hasn’t finished game with fewer than 113. He rushed for 275 yards against Normal West, 219 against Alton and 248 against Granite City and 192 just two weeks ago at Collinsville.
So far this year, they’ve helped Hewitt amass 1,603 yards on 205 carries (7.8 yard avg.), which is tops in the metro-east and fifth in the entire St. Louis region.
The rushing record was a goal since kickoff on week one, he said.
I showed up ready to play Friday, but who ever thinks they'll run for that much?
Mason Hewitt, O’Fallon record-breaking running back
“I showed up ready to play Friday, but who ever thinks they’ll run for that much?” Hewitt said. “At the beginning of the year, I looked at it and thought the record would be hard to reach, but as the yards went up and up, I wondered if I could get there. I was pretty excited Friday when I got there.”
The Panthers returned an experienced offensive line that helped Kentrail Moran — currently of the New Mexico Lobos — break the school’s career rushing rushing record in 2015. The returning starters include center Robert Hayes, guards Ryan Sedlacek and Dalton Brooks, and tackles Braydon Johnson, Malik Giddens and Deandre Crawley.
Hewitt says he’s also benefited by the continued development of junior quarterback Christian Perez, whose 1,451 and 16 touchdown passes lead the Southwestern Conference.
“The passing game has made us a little more balanced on offense and helped open up the running game even more,” Hewitt said.
None of this is to say that Hewitt hasn’t helped himself some, too. At 6-foot and 195 pounds, he has the size to run between the tackles and, with a 4.6-second 40-yard dash, he has enough speed to slip around the ends.
“His yardage after contact has been really high. It’s hard for one person to take him down because he runs hard and always falls forward,” Joggerst said. “He likes to run inside, but he’s got deceptive enough speed that he can get to the outside.”
Hewitt’s performance against East doesn’t approach the Illinois single-game rushing record held by Chicago-Austin’s DeAndrew Hooper, who torched Near North with 593 yards and six touchdowns in October 1996. It also falls short of O’Fallon’s school record, which was set when Erin Lewis rushed for 401 yards against Collinsville in 2008.
It was almost like a half a season in one game. As crazy as it sounds, we expect a lot from him and weren't really surprised by what happened Friday.
Brandon Joggerst, O’Fallon’s 10th-year head coach on senior Mason Hewitt
But Friday’s game and his season totals put Hewitt on the short list of great running backs to come out of O’Fallon. That list includes Moran, his former teammate, and former Minnesota Golden Gopher Duane Bennett.
Hewitt has yet to receive that kind of college offer, but expects one, especially as professionally-produced recruitment videos — courtesy of his father — are more widely circulated.
“We’re trying to compile everything and send it out,” Joggerst said. “But he’s on the radar now. There are highlights yet to come, so I think, recruiting-wise, things are about to pick up for him.”
O’Fallon improved to 5-3 with Friday’s win, its fourth in a row, and should qualify for the playoffs on strength of schedule. Hewitt still has at least one regular season game left to add to his record rushing total.
But Hewitt says he and the Panthers have a bigger priorities when they play host to East St. Louis, Illinois’ top-ranked 7A team.
“We think we’ve clinched a playoff spot, but a win this week will remove any doubt,” he said.