Chenier, Hightower have chance meeting as Chenier becomes all-time rushing yardage leader

Chenier, Hightower have chance meeting as Chenier becomes all-time rushing yardage leader

Call it luck or call it fate, but the moment became one neither Rommel Hightower nor Elijah Chenier will ever forget.

The duo of MC backs met each other for the first time last Saturday, just moments after Chenier had broken Hightower's career rushing record.

"Timing is everything," Maryville College Head Coach Shaun Hayes said. "When I had an opportunity to take both of the kids that I've coached here that were so successful – and they're a big part of where I'm at today in my profession – I wanted to stand right in front of them and watch them interact. The respect and just the memories I had, and to see how successful Rommel is now and how humble he was and happy he was for Chenier, and for Chenier to just show the utmost respect for him, it's such a blessing. It was a special, special moment for me in my career, and it is one I'll never forget. What's awesome is that I know neither one of them will ever forget."

Hightower – a Maryville College running back from 2006 through 2009 – hadn't been to a Scots' game since his last time clad in Orange and Garnet in the fall of '09. On Saturday, the career leader in rushing yards made the trek to the foothills for the first time in nearly 10 years.

Hightower said he'd mentioned going to a game many times, but it just never worked out. On Saturday, he and teammate Nick Jensen knew it was Senior Day and their last opportunity to see the Fighting Scots play this year.

"I had mentioned going to catch a game many times, but it just never happened," Hightower said. "I had heard about Chenier, being a physical back with a similar style to my own, a couple years ago. I had no idea he was that close to my numbers, though."

Hightower was fixing to leave late in the fourth quarter on Saturday, as he yelled over to Coach Hayes. At the same moment, Chenier was being congratulated for breaking MC's career mark with 3,256 career rushing yards.

The head coach pulled Chenier from the celebration, taking him to meet Maryville College's only other 3,000-yard rusher.

"I got to talk to Rommel," Chenier said. "He was at the game, and that was even crazier. Coach didn't even invite him. He just ended up showing up. That was more like fate than anything, just to thank him and let him know that he is still the top dog. He is. I was like, 'Is this real?' I had looked him up, and I had seen who he was. As soon as I saw his face, I was like, 'Oh yea. I know that guy.' It was crazy, man."

Hightower amassed 3,243 career yards during his tenure, as the record-breaking back still holds the MC record for carries at 683. He sits at tied for second in MC history with 30 touchdowns. The former Scot averaged 4.7 yards per carry over his four-year career at Maryville College.

Hayes called Hightower an extremely explosive back. He said the runner could see cuts before he could, as Hightower had some of the best vision the coach had ever seen.

"Rommel was a feared, feared back," Hayes said. "He was one of the first backs that arrived here on this campus that weighed 180 pounds. He didn't look like he was such a run-over-you-type player. After two or three days in camp, the defense changed the way they played. We were supposed to be tackling, and they were tagging."

Chenier sits just 13 yards above Hightower in the record books following his record-breaking performance on Saturday. The senior had 142 yards, as he broke the record on a 6-yard carry late in the fourth. Two touches later, the Chenier found pay dirt to help earn Maryville's first-ever outright USA South title.

Chenier said Hayes had asked him earlier in the week, 'Do you want to break it?' Chenier's response was simple – 'I want to win,' whatever it took.

"I'd been thinking about it, and it's been on my mind the past few games," Chenier said of the record. "I wanted to make sure that I did that. If I didn't, I would have been ok with that, as long as we won. It was even more amazing to break the record and win to make history twice."

He accomplished the feat on Senior Day with his parents watching in the stands, which made the moment even more special according to the senior.

Chenier's 3,256 yards come on 501 carries, as he has averaged 6.5 yards per touch over his career. He has 24 touchdowns that ranks fifth all-time in the Maryville record books for that category.

The senior also holds the record for the most rushing yards in a season. He surpassed Travis Felder's 1,269 yards from two seasons ago with 1,281 yards in the 2016 campaign, while averaging 7.3 yards per carry.

Hayes compared the duo of legendary backs, saying Chenier was more of a dense back. The senior is a leg drive guy that's going do lower the pads, double wrap the football and drive his feet for the yardage.

"The thing that Chenier has is that when people do hit him, his stiff arm was always something special," the coach said. "I've seen him just shuck guys off. If you could combine those two, probably neither one of them would have played here. They'd be in the NFL right now, but they both were driven to a different level."

The duo said that moment on the Honaker Field sidelines will always be a special one.

Chenier says he feels like he's connected to the former Scot.

"I didn't even know him before, but to just be able to share that type of moment, it's amazing," Chenier said. "I felt like I knew him for a long time. Running backs, we have that type of bond. We do the same things, and we go through the same process. We all have to learn how to run the ball and see the holes. To have that type of bond and communication with him was amazing. I felt like I knew him for a long time."

Hightower said the moment brought back the emotion that comes with breaking the record. He mentioned that seeing Chenier's emotions and reaction was special and one not many people get to experience.

He said it was Chenier's moment, but being a part of it was a gratifying experience.

"I think we both appreciated the moment more than we expected," Hightower said. "I feel like Coach Hayes had a lot to do with that. I was really close to him during my time at MC, and it seems like Chenier has a similar relationship with him. He seemed to know we would appreciate meeting each other more than we did, and he made sure to initiate it when he saw the opportunity. It was a bittersweet moment for all three of us."