In short time, D.J. Pree has ascended the Comets' depth chart at tailback and enters Friday's home game against Springfield as the leading rusher in the Southern Sky Conference.

When the summer rolled around and Crater was formulating its depth chart at tailback, D.J. Pree wasn't at the top of the list.

Truth be told, he wasn't even second.

But the sports world is all about making the most of your opportunities, and Pree certainly tops the list in that category.

"At the start of the season, I was just looking forward to getting some varsity playing time," says the affable junior. "I wasn't expecting what I've gotten."

In short time, Pree has ascended the Comets' depth chart at tailback and enters Friday's home game against Springfield as the leading rusher in the Southern Sky Conference.

The 5-foot-8, 170-pounder has come on strong to total 369 yards rushing on 67 attempts for an average of 5.5 yards per carry.

"He's really got a good feel for the zone running game and how we run that," says Crater coach John Beck. "The zone game takes a little more patience and he really does a good job of following his blocks and making his cuts and accelerating through the hole."

That same patience spilled over to his waiting game at tailback.

Pree mainly received reps during summer camps because Zach Boskovich was playing baseball and unavailable. When the season began, Marcus Havniear was the lead tailback and amassed 101 yards on 13 carries in a season-opening loss to Wilsonville.

But Havniear left the team shortly thereafter, and Boskovich's ability to catch the ball from the slot had Crater coaches pondering their next move.

Enter Pree, and exit any concerns the Comets may have had about their running game.

"With him stepping up there," says Beck, "it's allowed us to be a lot more creative with our offense. Now we have more multiple threats, so it's really been a blessing."

Pree got his feet wet with 66 yards against Sherwood, and followed that up with his breakout game to date two weeks ago at St. Helens. In that game, Pree rushed 22 times for 164 yards and scored four touchdowns to give Crater its first win of the season.

"That was definitely my confidence-builder right there in that game," says Pree, 17. "It was with a bang, I went from nothing to something."

He followed that up with 99 yards on 22 carries last week against a formidable Heritage (Wash.) High defense.

"What I like about D.J. is the more the game progresses, the better he gets," says Beck.

That's not typically the norm given Pree's small stature, but Beck says his strength and toughness are undeniable.

And to hear Pree tell it, his size can be an advantage — especially considering the mammoth linemen he runs behind at Crater.

"Our offensive line is great," he says. "With Tyson Hoffman (6-5, 300) and Anthony Timmerman (6-4, 317) and guys like Adam Wasniewski (6-4, 240), those are definitely some big guys. They make the job a whole lot easier for sure. I'm not the largest guy on the field, obviously, so that makes running the ball a lot smoother for me."

Being dwarfed by his linemen also makes Pree difficult to track when he does get the ball.

"When you have those big kids in front of you like he does," says Beck, "he kinda hides in there and then just squirts out from nowhere."

It's a trademark running style born from necessity.

"Especially with the size I have, I can't be stalling so I just go for it," says Pree. "So far it's been working out. The linemen are getting a big push and I'm just hitting it hard. I just use speed and smarts a little bit more than size and strength."

Whatever the tactic, it all seems to be working just fine for the Comets.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 776-4488, or e-mail khenry@mailtribune.com