CARY — The highlight so far of Dorrel McClain’s stellar senior season at Panther Creek came Sept. 20, when he helped lead the Catamounts to a come-from-behind victory over top-ranked Leesville Road.
Looking back, McClain can’t help but smile.
He said he’s friends with Braxton Berrios, Leesville’s standout senior who committed recently to University of Miami.
“We knew coming into the the game we were going to challenge each other,” McClain said of Berrios.
The start of the first quarter wasn’t much of a challenge for Leesville. Then Berrios suffered an injury to his left foot just before halftime, and Panther Creek head coach Sean Crocker made adjustments to get the ball to McClain.
It worked: McClain exploded, scoring all five of the Catamounts’ touchdowns and leading the team to a 34-21win.
Panther Creek had been a team that grew accustomed to losing in 2012, often by narrow margins. The Cats had a dismal 1-10 record last year, picking up their only win against Apex.
In retrospect, McClain said, last year’s team was “selfish.”
“After losing a few games, we had it in our minds we had no chance,” he said.
Then something changed in the Panther Creek mindset, and McClain was front and center of the transformation. Players hit the weight room hard over the summer, he said, and the experience brought the team together.
So far this year, Panther Creek is 5-2. The team fell to Wake Forest in the season-opener, then lost a heartbreaker to Southwest Wake Athletic Conference rival Middle Creek on Friday.
“It’s this whole team,” McClain said. “We came together as a family.”
McClain has emerged as a sort of patriarch, leading the team with 13 touchdowns and 845 rushing yards this year.
“Dorrel is having an excellent year,” said Crocker, who is in his second year as head coach at Panther Creek. “He’s a hard worker – he’s always been.”
‘He pushes everybody’
McClain, 18, has had a football in his hands as long as he can remember.
And he comes from a football family. His father played for Cary High, he said, and his older brother played for Apex.
McClain spent his freshman season at Holly Springs, where he played on the junior varsity. Then his family moved, and McClain earned a spot on Panther Creek’s varsity as a sophomore.
Last year, he pretty much did it all for the Catamounts, playing three different positions on offense.
Oh, he played defense and returned some kicks, too.
McClain doesn’t have so much on his plate these days, so he can focus entirely on making big plays as a running back.
“He’s a key guy,” Crocker said. “I told him coming into the year we were going to lean on him.”
Brenden Magner, Panther Creek’s junior quarterback, looks to McClain during games and practice.
“Whenever I can get him the ball, he makes plays,” Magner said. “He makes everybody around him better.”
Magner also said those weight-room sessions have been crucial to the team. “He pushes everybody around him to work hard,” he said of McClain.
Some colleges have expressed interest, and McClain’s hoping to play for Elon University. He’s already visited, he said, and appreciated that the coaches and players seemed down to earth. “It just feels like I’m home when I’m there,” he said.
But before he heads to college, McClain has work to do at Panther Creek. There’s still a lot of football to play: The team will face Fuquay-Varina on Friday, then Apex, Holly Springs and Green Hope.
McClain has big hopes for his team, but this is his biggest wish: “I just want us to stay humble.”
This is his family, after all.
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