A month ago, Matt Colburn was a third-string running back, spending his sophomore season dominating junior varsity competitions and preparing for his shot on the varsity squad.
Then Dutch Fork’s backup running back was moved to linebacker, and rusher Trey Gregg went down with an injury. Suddenly, in the next-to-last regular season game, Colburn became the team’s primary ball carrier.
“Before that, I was just working my tail off in the weight room and on JV, doing everything I could to make sure that I’d be ready for it if the time came,” Colburn said.
He was ready. In their Oct. 26 game, Colburn, who had mostly seen action in the final minutes of a few games, tripled his season rushing total with a 400-yard, four-touchdown performance that set a school single-game record.
Now, Colburn will play a central role in the Silver Foxes’ campaign for the Class 4A Division 1 title, which continues with a second-round visit from Boiling Springs on Friday.
“It’s kind of overwhelming to think about,” said Colburn, who has netted 811 yards and 12 touchdowns in three games as a starter.
The unexpected promotion sped up the timeline for Colburn’s development as the go-to back, and highlights one weakness.
Colburn runs so hard, Knotts said, that occasionally the ball doesn’t go with him.
“Trey was very consistent. He took care of the ball,” Knotts said. “It’s one thing that’s difficult to deal with, and one thing we’re just trying to implement with Matt is ball security. We probably paid less attention to it the more we relied on Trey, so it slipped through the cracks.”
But it is of critical importance for the Silver Foxes , whose 2011 season ended after a game-changing fumble to Boiling Springs in a second-round game.
But with Colburn rushing for an average 270 yards per game and notching 12 touchdowns in three games, the Silver Foxes are more than grateful he was prepared to step up.
“He just runs so hard,” Knotts said of the hard-to-tackle young back with a strong and compact frame. “He still does some things that irk me, but man I love him.”
“I can’t criticize a guy who plays as hard as he does.”
And Knotts is not being critical of Colburn.
“I’m talking about making him great,” Knotts said.
The Dutch Fork coaches knew from his junior varsity performances that Colburn would be an explosive rusher, and now most of the Silver Foxes’ competitors know it, too.
“They’ve got three games of film on him, so I think he’s pretty well known by the people we’ve played, and the teams we’ll face know they have to stop No. 31,” Knotts said.
Hitting the field late in the season might have advantages — freshness and live legs, Knotts said. But Colburn said the most important factor in his ability to produce for Dutch Fork is his focus. Colburn has had a one-track mind since he got the starting nod.
“I just have one mindset, I’ve got to run the ball. I don’t think about anything else,” he said. “It’s kind of reassuring to know that the coaches believe in me and they know I can get the job done.”