Matt Colburn walks the halls at Dutch Fork and looks like the typical high school junior. He is well-mannered — always answers with “Yes, ma’am” or “Yes, sir” — pleasant and unassuming. He takes his school work seriously and is always pleasant to be around.
But let Colburn put on the green and silver Dutch Fork football uniform and he transforms. For the past two seasons, he has punished opposing defenses with a style where he would rather run through a tackler instead of around. Area coaches routinely game-plan ways to stop the 5-foot-8, 180-pound bulldozer.
“He has really grown up since his ninth grade year,” Dutch Fork coach Tom Knotts said. “He was a fun-loving guy — not in any trouble — but he has developed into a very mature football player and teammate. He would do anything the coaches ask of him. We know we’re going to get his best effort every time he steps on the field.”
Colburn relishes contact in football. He is one of first ones in and last ones out in the weight room. One college player he likes to watch is South Carolina running back Mike Davis, another under-sized bruiser.
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“Ever since my days at Seven Oaks in the Pop Warner league I have always tried to be the hammer and not the nail,” Colburn said. “I try to run full speed and give it all my effort every play. But I do like the contact.”
A healthy Colburn will lead the Silver Foxes into the Class 4A Division I playoffs beginning today with a first-round match at home against Fort Dorchester. The goal is to end the season in the same spot they were last year — with a different result.
The Silver Foxes began last year’s playoffs as a No. 2 seed and made it to the title game before losing to talented Gaffney. This year, they enter as a No. 5 seed and are guaranteed one home playoff game.
Knotts hopes to have Colburn in the lineup full-time the rest of the way.
“For us to win and go far, we need him on the field,” Knotts said. “He — along with (quarterback Derek) Olenchuk — is what makes us go. The running game opens up our passing game. Matt can bring a long one at any time, and that’s what we need. We’re not really blessed with a lot of speed at wide receiver, so we have to drive the ball eight, 10 or 12 plays. We need Matt to break a long one so we don’t have to get these longs drives.”
The success of Dutch Fork can almost be squarely tied to the performance and health of Colburn. The Silver Foxes lost three games during the regular season, and Colburn might have been on the field for four of those quarters. He injured his knee in an early season showdown with Goose Creek and missed the final three quarters. He missed the following week against Irmo, and Dutch Fork dropped both of those games.
Last week, Colburn was battling turf toe and didn’t get the start against North Augusta. He did tally 12 carries, but it was not enough as the Silver Foxes lost the chance to win the Region 5-4A championship.
This season, Colburn has rushed for 1,497 yards and 36 touchdowns on 209 carries. He has added 261 yards and two touchdowns on 16 receptions despite missing time with the injury.
“He’s a bundle of energy and power,” Knotts said. “He stays in the weight room and is a legit 4.5 guy. He has the quickness and vision to go along with a little jump-cut that makes people miss. I think he’s the total package. He lacks that overall size, but he’s going to get thicker as he gets older. There are a lot of NFL running backs that are his size, just a little bit thicker. The sky is the limit for him.
Colburn never expected to have such an impact, but he hopes it continues for at least four more games.
“You never think you can do things like that,” Colburn said. “I was having some success on junior varsity, so I just tried to play the same way on varsity. My number was called, and things fell in place for me.”