Mo’ backs, less problems: Rangers blessed with abundance of rushers

A bevy of backs have burst onto the scene, giving coach Larry Hill plenty of options.


Danielle Esperiqueta

RB Jacob Forton (#3) awaits the snap against Pflugerville Hendrickson. Forton leads the team in rushing yards with 170.

Jackson Posey, Sports Editor

“I just thought of being electric.”

Those words echoed in Gabe Hoskins’ mind every time he touched the football in Friday night’s win against Pflugerville Hendrickson. And it showed. In a breakout performance, the junior compiled 103 rushing yards and a touchdown in just 11 carries. As the game wound down, Hoskins’ share of the offense grew, and with every handoff the crowd swelled with expectation. The excitement was palpable.

“[Hoskins] gives the defense a different look from Jacob Forton,” Coach Larry Hill said Tuesday. “He has great acceleration through the hole. It’s a nice changeup for us to have. We’re better when we have them both going.”

And as that “changeup,” Hoskins excelled. And he hopes to continue doing just that.

“I just think of being the player everybody loves to watch and wants to see more of,” Hoskins said. 

And he clearly succeeded. Coach Hill is going to have a tough time divvying up backfield playing time from now on. And not because Hoskins hasn’t earned the playing time – he has. But a cluttered backfield full of stars is becoming a great problem to have.

Smithson Valley had a clear running back plan in the works prior to the season. Marc Franco’s graduation and Darlington Frasch’s move to middle linebacker opened up a void that senior Jacob Forton was poised to fill. Jack-of-all-trades athlete Greg Eggleston would serve as a Dwayne Bowe-esque change of pace back/receiver, but Forton would take the lion’s share of the offense. And so far, so good, but other pieces have performed well enough to force a shift in the team’s plans.

Greg Eggleston, for one, has been an absolute superstar. After getting just seven touches for 91 yards last week at Midland Lee, he exploded in a larger role, racking up 206 total yards and two touchdowns in nine touches, most of which came in the first half. 

[Eggleston] wears a lot of hats,” Coach Hill said.  “He catches balls, runs the ball, blocks, runs reverses, returns kicks. We try to get him involved [in] any and every way we can. He is our most explosive player.”

That explosiveness was put on display repeatedly thanks to Coach Hill’s creative playbook, but it didn’t always come easy for Eggleston, who was a linebacker as recently as last season.

“At first it was difficult [to] learn all the signals,” Eggleston said, “but we watch a lot of film and study our practices so well that after a week and a half I got it down like I’d been at that position for a while.”

Obviously learning a new position on a new side of the ball is incredibly difficult. But if a converted linebacker can pick it up that quickly, how much more room does he have to grow?

“I only see things getting better for us,” he said. “That win really boosted our confidence, and I know we are going to come out harder and harder week by week… I expect us to win every single week from now on, then win district, then go deep in the playoffs, and then go for the state title.”

A humble star, Eggleston refused to accept praise for his accomplishments, instead adorning his teammates with effusive praise. So what did he think about his 200+ yard, two touchdown performance against Hendrickson?

“To me it feels great, but the yards and the touchdowns weren’t just mine,” he said, “It was the whole offense… Without a great offensive line blocking and the fullbacks, running backs, and receivers doing their thing, none of that [would] have [happened].”

What type of role does he envision himself playing the rest of the season?

“I think I’ll play a big leadership role, not vocally, but by example during games and at practice. I hope that the way I practice and the way I play will inspire my teammates to work even harder every single week.”

“Leadership” is right – Eggleston seems like an amazing character and culture guy. But there is someone standing between him and an increased workload: Jacob Forton. Yes, Forton may appear diminutive, but he uses his leverage well and has a great blend of strength and speed that plays well in the multiple/West Coast offense Hill is utilizing this season. The bell cow has been force fed the ball to the tune of 44 touches (43 carries) in his first two games. And yet he keeps chugging along, as the 169 rushing yards and four touchdowns to his name certainly make life easier for his counterparts. 

He is vital to our success,” Coach Hill said. “He and the offensive line have the capability of wearing down a defense as the night goes on. He is a shifty runner who makes good cuts, yet he has the power to run through tackles.”

For all of his talent, Forton is as humble as his teammate, giving credit to his teammates above himself.

“I appreciate the role that Coach Hill has me in,” the workhorse said. “I believe that it takes all 11 guys on the field, so I wouldn’t necessarily [say that I] carry [the] team, however I believe that when others are making their plays such as the o-line and everybody blocking for me, it allows me to show everyone what I can do.”

The senior described himself as a “tough inside and downhill runner who fights for extra yards,” and as someone who “wants to make the defense feel me.” And he’s absolutely right. Last year’s all-District 26-6A has bowled over plenty of opponents this year, and he isn’t done yet.

As exciting as it may be to latch onto the idea of a Hoskins-led offense, that idea is utterly dismissive of the good work that Forton has put in to make this offense run smoothly. He takes a pounding each night, and keeps getting back up. He is an excellent running back, and the fact that a discussion on the state of the position is even possible reflects more on the team’s impressive talent pipeline than it does on their leading man.

Also deserving of a mention here is Braxton Bounds. The senior picked up a 29-yard gain on the ground Friday. Though his stats are solid, the room is likely too crowded for him to make much of an impact outside of garbage time in more lopsided contests.

Overall, the Rangers are in a great place with their running backs. Their top four rushers combined for 322 ground yards – an average of over eight yards per carry – and four touchdowns against the Hawks. Coach Hill has plenty of options to utilize this Thursday against San Antonio Madison. The scariest part? They might just be getting better.