Thus far, Chris Schweisthal's stint as one of the Upper Arlington High School football team's featured running backs is going according to plan.

That's partly because at one time, it wasn't.

Injuries helped propel Schweisthal into the spotlight late last season, as he went from being the scout team's running back who started on junior varsity to being the Golden Bears' top back in their season finale against Dublin Coffman. He had nine carries for 78 yards and the Bears' only touchdown in a 14-7 loss to the Shamrocks, an output that perhaps was not statistically eye-popping but ultimately served a bigger purpose.

"Last year was a growing experience for me. We had Avery Heath (as the featured running back) and I was learning the ropes, getting to know the plays," Schweisthal said. "When they needed me, I hoped I was ready to go. That Coffman game was definitely nerve-wracking. Varsity is just a lot faster-paced than j.v. I just had to focus on what I needed to focus on, playing my role and knowing my assignments."

This season, the 6-foot-1, 200-pound junior has rushed for 389 yards and three touchdowns on 78 carries to pace UA's ground game, and the Bears take a 2-2 record into their Friday, Sept. 21, home game against Lancaster.

Schweisthal, who also caught a 76-yard touchdown pass in a 37-29 win at Westerville South on Sept. 14, doesn't shoulder the load by himself.

Classmate Eli D'Herete has added 241 yards and five touchdowns on 47 carries, and quarterback Sammy Sass has 30 carries for 127 yards and four scores.

"(Schweisthal and D'Herete) are a dangerous 1-2 punch. They're both versatile; they can run between the tackles and we can put them outside if we need to," coach Joel Cutler said. "Chris is pretty even-keeled. He's never too high or too low. He had a great showing last year on our scout team. He was definitely a lot for our defense to deal with at practice.

"He was nervous as any 10th-grader would be for his first start, but I knew going in he was somebody we could depend on. And he hasn't disappointed us."

Schweisthal also stays busy off the football field. He was a Division I regional qualifier in the 100 meters last spring with the boys track and field team despite missing two weeks early in the season because of a sprained right ankle, and is involved in youth groups at Mountview Christian Church and Linworth Road Church as well as Young Life at the high school.

Last year, Schweisthal participated in a two-week mission trip to Puerto Rico.

"It was a very special experience," Schweisthal said. "We taught a lot about applying faith to sport. It's something that's extremely important to me and that I try to do every day."

D'Herete rushed for 141 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries against South, and Sass completed nine of 16 passes for 155 yards and three scores.

Lancaster is 1-3, coming off a 62-0 rout of Newark on Sept. 14. Jake Richards rushed for 111 yards and two touchdowns on nine carries and Casey Finck caught three passes for 114 yards and two touchdowns.

The Golden Gales outgained the Wildcats 437-64 in total yards.

This will be the first meeting between UA and Lancaster since the Bears' 28-27 overtime win on Oct. 22, 2005. It was the second consecutive overtime game between the two teams, after a 34-33 UA win at home in 2004. Both teams were in the OCC-Ohio Division at the time.

Lancaster replaces Division I state champion Pickerington Central as one of UA's non-league games.

"It's an old rivalry," Cutler said. "Ten years ago or so when I was an assistant to Darrell (Mayne) and Mike (Golden), it was a battle every year, a great rivalry. That will be fun."

Given the Bears' recent success, especially offensively, Schweisthal and the Bears are setting their goals high.

"Personally, I want to rush for 1,000 yards," Schweisthal said. "As a team, we can make the playoffs. We can go 6-0 the rest of the way. We have the talent to do it."

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave