PLAYING tailback in high school football this season has been a snap.
It’s just a matter of whether it’s your arm, leg or shoulder.
The top three area tailbacks in terms of yardage gained (Columbus East’s Markell Jones, Columbus North’s Jesse Tompkins and Jennings County’s Tommy Taylor) and four of the top eight (add North’s Jamaal Halliburton to the list) are injured.
It’s not a fluke.
“There’s no more physically punishing position than tailback,” North head coach Tim Bless said. “You’re never going to see an offensive guard have four or five people trying to hit him at once.”
Add to the equation that high school football players in general are getting bigger, stronger and faster, and it’s obvious that those who carry the ball have been moved to the endangered list.
Columbus North lineman Thomas Shoaf sees first-hand the pain a high school tailback must absorb.
“You see him twisted on the ground in four different directions, and then he gets up and runs another play,” Shoaf said. “I have a huge respect for anyone who runs the ball. Sometimes, when you are running the ball, you don’t have a choice but to get blindsided.”
Jones, who has rushed for 800 yards this season to lead all area runners, knows he is going to be hit from all angles.
“Especially this year,” Jones said. “We’re consistently seeing eight to nine guys in the box, so the holes aren’t always there. And some of those guys hit hard.”
Jones, a sophomore who has been in and out of the lineup since the third game of the season, said he has a possible stress fracture just above his left ankle but continues to push forward as the season grinds to a close.
“I’m not going to stay out,” he said. “I want to be a help.”
Against Jeffersonville on Friday, he rushed for 51 yards in the first two quarters then shut it down.
“I couldn’t plant on it,” Jones said of his left leg. “When I scored that touchdown (a nine-yard run in the first quarter), I was limping.”
In the second quarter, Jones told his coaching staff that he thought Christian Wichman would do a better job at tailback, and he sat the rest of the way.
“I have a huge respect for Markell,” East linebacker Logan Galarno said. “I know how hard it is. It has to hurt him. It hurts us.
“I think after while their bodies get used to hits.”
East coach Bob Gaddis knows that no one is immune to getting hit.
“We’re conscious of it, and that’s why we don’t go full out live on our running backs in practice. We don’t take them to the ground. There are only so many shots they can take.”
Gaddis noted that Jones’ injury didn’t come on a hit.
“It was a freak injury,” Gaddis said. “He was just running on the last play of the half, and you could see him pull up. And that injury, just above the ankle, is in one of the hardest areas to heal. He’s played in a lot of pain.”
Fortunately for East, Wichman is a top-flight running back.
“That’s a luxury for us,” Gaddis said.
Bless thought he had a luxury with Halliburton, who stepped into the lineup to run for 292 yards and five touchdowns against Perry Meridian when Tompkins went down with an AC joint sprain in his shoulder. Tompkins is hoping to return for the playoffs if North can keep winning and extend its season.
Now Halliburton is questionable for Friday’s home game against Southport after injuring his ankle last Friday against Bloomington South.
“It’s certainly a position where you need depth,” Bless said.
Tompkins, who also suffered a pinched never in his neck earlier in the season, will miss his Senior Night on Friday. It’s just part of the position.
“There’s not a game that goes by where you don’t take a bit hit,” Tompkins said. “Sometimes it will jolt your head, and sometimes it will jolt other parts of your body.”
Halliburton started on defense until he was called to replace Tompkins.
“It’s different on the offensive side,” he said. “You feel the impact instead of giving it.”
North linebacker Shaquille Ash agreed.
“Linebackers practice giving a hit,” he said. “They practice getting away from a hit. But when you carry the ball 30 times a game, you’re going to get hit by somebody.”