If Dutch Fork coach Tom Knotts and star running back Matt Colburn have their way, the heralded running back who has led the Silver Foxes to three consecutive championship game appearances will end his career much like he started it.
Two years ago, Colburn was an unknown commodity through the first seven games of the season. He played mostly in mop-up duty to senior Trey Gregg and had 186 yards and three touchdowns on 27 carries until the night of Oct. 26, 2012.
Dutch Fork had several injury concerns and unleashed Colburn on an unsuspecting Lexington defense. Colburn rushed for 400 yards and four touchdowns that night and hasn’t missed a beat since. That was the night the “Tasmanian Devil” nickname was first used in describing the running style of the 5-foot-8, 190-pound bruiser.
“They gave me the ball, and I just simply ran,” Colburn said this week as Dutch Fork is preparing to face Hillcrest in the Class 4A, Division I championship Saturday night at Williams-Brice Stadium. “Looking back on it now, it’s like ‘Wow, I actually did something like that.’ I was doing it on B team and JV but I never envisioned I would be able to have that kind of success on varsity. It certainly built my confidence up and it’s taken me to where I am now.”
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Where Colburn is now is a finalist for South Carolina’s Mr. Football award and a Shrine Bowl selection despite missing time his senior season with nagging injuries. He’s still been good enough to rush for 1,632 yards and 27 touchdowns on 230 carries. He missed 21/2 games with a high ankle sprain and was limited to fewer than 10 carries in two others to save his legs for the playoff stretch.
The Hillcrest defense can expect Colburn to get plenty of touches in the championship game.
“Matt missed a couple of games, and there have been a number of games where he didn’t carry it in the second half,” Knotts said. “We wanted him to be fresh for the playoffs, but I promise you I’m not going to limit anything now. He’s going to get 30 carries Saturday night. I said from the get-go he was going to be the guy we were going to ride once we got into the playoffs.”
Colburn has carried it 98 fewer times than he did his junior season, when he finished with 2,488 yards and 40 touchdowns on 328 rushing attempts. In six games last year, he exceeded 26 carries. He didn’t reach that mark this year until he had 30 carries in a 27-13 win against Dorman two weeks ago. The past two weeks, he’s combined for 368 yards on 58 carries.
“Last year, I was getting 30 or 40 carries a game, and now it’s been 15 to 20,” Colburn said. “It’s definitely satisfying knowing that If I do my part, I know my teammates will do their part for us to be successful. But, as a competitor, I’m never really satisfied.”
Colburn has rushed for 5,564 yards and 91 touchdowns in his three-year career. He said missing time with the high ankle sprain he sustainedsuffered on Sept. 26 has been frustrating.
“I feel like last year I had a better year with numbers and stats, but a bunch of factors contributed to that,” Colburn said. “I wouldn’t say I’m disappointed with my year, but I think last year set certain expectations. I wouldn’t say I’ve underachieved, but sometimes you don’t get what you want in life. Regardless, I hope I can finish strong. ”
Knotts compares Colburn, a Louisville commitment, to South Carolina running back Mike Davis. The two have a similar build and run with the same type of reckless control.
“Matt’s got great balance, a great jump cut, great quickness and he see’s things and holes when he’s in the open field, so he has great vision,” Knotts said. “He’s got everything but the size, but you look around the NFL and they’re playing on Sundays with little guys. He’s going to have to get thicker. He’s going to be a Mike Davis-type with more than what Mike Davis offers. I’d say he’s faster than Davis and has better moves. He’s just not as thick as Davis is right now, but I think that will come.”
It hasn’t sunk in for Colburn that his high school career has one game remaining. He hopes he can write one final chapter that will have Dutch fork celebrating a second state championship.
“At this point, this is the biggest game of my life,” Colburn said. “It hasn’t struck me yet that this is it. It will probably sink in before Saturday night that this will be the last time I put on a Dutch Fork uniform, so I want to make it a memorable one. This final game means everything, considering the work and sacrifice that we’ve put in. We’ve been consistently chasing this goal since we left the field last season. Now that we’re back, we want to finish what we started.”