University Christian leans on depth in the ground game for the 2019 season in Class 2A high school football.
Pound that football. Block, block, block. Keep those running backs — all of them — moving.
David Penland III has two words for his approach to the 2019 season, the system that he's hoping will carry University Christian football into double figures in Florida High School Athletic Association state championships.
"Bully Ball," the ninth-year head coach says. "That's what we call it."
Bully Ball, Penland hopes, is the key to punching a ticket to a state final at Tallahassee's Gene Cox Stadium for University Christian, which enters 2019 as Northeast Florida's perennial top contender for high school football in Class 2A.
They've had the better part of a year to digest their uncomfortably early 45-21 regional final exit against Tallahassee North Florida Christian.
The last time UC got knocked out short of the final four: 2014.
Penland said he felt last year's team got outworked in the game that mattered most. So he's been keeping the intensity high, trying to turn the physical strength up a notch.
So far, it's paying off.
"We're definitely bigger, faster and stronger than we've been in about three years," Penland said.
But can Bully Ball carry the school over the last hurdle?
"We've been working harder than ever just to get past that and get to states this year," said Cody Kopp, a senior linebacker committed to Northern Illinois.
Not since 2016, when UC downed Hialeah Champagnat to finish a run of back-to-back titles, has UC lifted the state trophy in December. For players like running back Max McClendon, that's too long.
"I already have a ring from my freshman year, but I didn't really get to prove myself playing," he said. "So this year, I'm hoping that I get to take the team to the state championship."
McClendon, fast climbing the all-time rushing list for the nine-time state champions, may be the first back in line, but he's far from the only weapon.
Even when Penland looks back to his 2015 team, which sent a pair of running backs to Football Bowl Subdivision colleges, he still can't find a rushing unit to compare with the one that University Christian brings into this season.
"[In 2015] we had Hussein [Howe] and Otis [Anderson]," Penland said. "But I haven't had backups that are just as good as the starters."
As he sees it, UC enters the season with as many as six quality running backs — the perfect recipe for Bully Ball.
McClendon, who rushed for 842 yards and 10 touchdowns during the 2018 regular season, isn't complaining about sharing some of the workload with players like Marques Moulds and Arthur Walker.
"I feel like it's a weight off my shoulders, knowing I'm not the only back there," McClendon said. "I've got a whole lot of people I can rely on."
For Penland, keeping the ball on the ground makes sense in more ways than one. They'll have to replace their 2018 quarterback Ridge Jacobs, who transferred to Class 7A Atlantic Coast.
University Christian gets its first test during the season-opening Bold City Showcase at Bolles on Aug. 24.
"It's a tough game, it's on TV, it's a lot of things going on," Penland said. "But these guys will be ready."
Until that day, practice at University Christian goes on, building a team that — they hope — can find the end zone as easily with their first-string running back as with their fifth.
"We're going to be hitting this year," Kopp said. "We're ready for anything."