At 5-foot-8 and 145 pounds, Gabe Owusu-Antwi knows he'll never be the biggest or most imposing player on a football field.

With an estimated time of 4.8 seconds in the 40-yard dash, the New Albany High School junior knows he has plenty of room to grow when it comes to speed.

But even with those numbers, coach Pat Samanich considers Owusu-Antwi a primary reason why his team is contending for the OCC-Capital Division championship and a second consecutive playoff berth.

Originally a starting cornerback who also saw time on special teams, injuries and personnel changes led to Owusu-Antwi adding offensive responsibilities for the second half of the regular season.

In his first four games as a tailback, Owusu-Antwi rushed for 155 yards and three touchdowns on 28 carries. Occasionally sent out wide to block or catch screen passes, Owusu-Antwi had one catch for 5 yards and on special teams, had returned seven punts for 69 yards and five kickoffs for 164 yards.

New Albany is 5-4 overall and 3-1 in the league, one game behind first-place Big Walnut, entering its regular-season finale Friday, Oct. 27, at home against Groveport.

"I felt pretty comfortable running the ball. I am used to doing everything, hopping around to different positions," said Owusu-Antwi, who also has one interception. "At first, I didn't play a lot of offense, just defense, and I was OK with that. I had no problem with just sitting back and waiting for my turn. I like defense better, but I also like having the ball in my hands."

Samanich immediately noticed Owusu-Antwi's propensity to change the game, even if his statistics do not always reflect that. In a 14-0 loss to Big Walnut on Oct. 13, Owusu-Antwi had a 75-yard kickoff return for a touchdown negated because of a penalty.

Owusu-Antwi joined the offense in late September, about the time Jalin Jackson replaced Paxon Hunter at quarterback after playing the spots Owusu-Antwi now fills.

Brody Kidwell has seen increased snaps at cornerback the past few weeks.

"Gabe is such a dynamic young man who is such a playmaker for us," Samanich said. "When the ball is in the air, you see him track it and aggressively go after it. On the offensive end, he is fearless. We've had some injuries in the backfield and had to plug guys in here and there. When Jalin moved to quarterback, we found ourselves missing that dynamic threat. We will run some bubble screens, too. He has a great IQ and he makes good things happen."

Jackson, who has completed 36 of 74 passes for 512 yards with four touchdowns and four interceptions and rushed for 172 yards and three touchdowns on 40 carries, called Owusu-Antwi -- whose nickname is "Susu" -- "an electrifying kid."

"He brings a lot of juice to practices and games, especially when things aren't looking too good," Jackson said. "He might not be the fastest guy out there, but his juke moves and big plays bring our spirit back together. I give him the ball a lot, whether it's on a bubble pass or handing the ball off to him, because he is an impact player. He can make things happen."

A 55-36 win at Franklin Heights on Oct. 20 kept the Eagles' league championship hopes alive. Alex Cox rushed for 174 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries and Michiah Burton added 137 yards and three touchdowns on 22 carries to complement a defense that recorded seven sacks.

Big Walnut is 4-0 in the league, coming off a 14-13 win over winless Groveport on Oct. 20.

The Cruisers are trying to avoid their first winless season since 2004.

New Albany was sixth in last week's Region 7 computer ratings. The top eight teams make the playoffs.

"We're just focused on winning right now," Owusu-Antwi said. "When I'm put out there, I just try to do my best. Whatever obstacle is in my way, I try to go through it."

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave