Marquis Fells is one of those rare football players who leap from middle school to the varsity.
A member of Central York's varsity since his freshman year, Fells' career is winding down. He has one more regular-season game to play before his team heads into the District 3-AAAA playoffs.
An all-around standout, Fells has racked up significant rushing, receiving and return yards, celebrated with his teammates after victories and bonded with them following losses.
"Losing is a key component to this game," he said. "You can't always win."
Fells supplied leadership to help the Panthers recover from back-to-back season-opening losses to West York and Cumberland Valley.
"Myself, Corey (Hartz), Sherief (Sutton) and Asyck (Schildt), we got everyone together, and said, 'we can't have this, we have to live up to last year when we went 10-3 and went to districts.'"
The players got the message.
Central's only loss since the two at the start of the season was a 41-34 shootout setback to Spring Grove.
"I'm not glad we lost those games, but we showed we could overcome adversity the way we bounced back," Fells said.
The 5-foot, 7-inch, 145-pound running back/linebacker is having a terrific season for the Panthers, who are 4-1 in York-Adams Division I and 6-3 overall heading into Friday night's game against rival York High.
He's accumulated 1,074 yards, rushing and receiving, scored 18 touchdowns, averaged 42.20 yards on kickoff returns and recorded 71 tackles and two interceptions.
Fells is planning to continue his football career in college. He's received interest from four Division I schools, Temple, Connecticut, Delaware and Toledo, but nothing is definite at this point.
Hampton emerges: For now, Fells is focusing on his high school career and teaming with another big-play Panther, wide receiver Darian Hampton.
Hampton leads the Panthers in receptions with 37 for 776 yards (21.0 average). He has 11 touchdowns.
The 6-2, 180-pound Hampton showed just glimpses of his potential last season as a receiver, catching six passes for 134 yards (22.3 average).
What caused the big spike in receptions?
"This year, I feel like I've matured more," Hampton said. "I'm taking it (football) more seriously, doing everything I can to get somewhere in life. I worked a lot on routes, and (quarterback) Corey (Hartz) and I worked on throwing and catching."
Hartz, in his first season as the starting quarterback, is putting up huge numbers. He's the league's No. 1-rated quarterback with 1,752 passing yards and 23 touchdown passes.
"Corey watched Brandon (Baker) last year," said Fells, who is Hartz's best friend. "He learned a lot and with the help of Coach Bake (offensive coordinator Matt Baker), he's getting the job done."
Getting the job done. That's what Fells has been doing for four years.
He wants to keep playing for a while. That would mean making a run in the District 3-AAAA playoffs.
York High next: First things, first, though -- York High is next on Friday night.
"It's going to be a good game, speed vs. speed," Fells said. "York High's record (3-6 overall) doesn't show how good they are."
Central head coach Brad Livingston said the Panthers are a better football team than they were in the beginning of the season.
"It took a while for us to jell, and it took a while for Corey to be on the same page with the receivers," he said. "I always felt when you get down to late October and early November, and you have something to play for, it makes the season more dynamic."
The Panthers still have something to play for as they prepare for Senior Night 2012 at their stadium.
Central has a shot at gaining a share of the Division I crown. For that to happen, the Panthers have to defeat York High, and South Western has to hand Spring Grove its first division loss.
York High weapons: Central's defense will focus on containing York High's leading rusher Kelvin Nieves (939 yards) and putting pressure on Bearcats' quarterback James Way when he drops back to pass. Way also has the speed and moves to burn defenses on designated runs and scrambles.
Way's favorite target is Derek Wilson who has 23 catches for 369 yards (16.0 average).
-- Reach Dick Vanolin da at dvanolinda@york dispatch.com.