At this time last year, the current Sycamore senior who rushed for three touchdowns in last week’s win over DeKalb wasn’t even a running back – at least not in games.
Riley Hurley was a slot receiver early in the 2012 season, but the coaches wanted to keep eventual Daily Chronicle Player of the Year Austin Culton from the punishment of scout-team duties after he picked up an early season injury. In stepped Hurley, who impressed his coaches enough to earn some time at the position late in the year.
“He learned to be a really good running back, to be physical,” Sycamore coach Joe Ryan said. “He took a beating, but he just kept getting up and wanted more. That says a lot about him. That kind of gave him a heads-up on this year, and gave him a chance to give him some carries this year.”
Of course, Hurley is only one piece of Sycamore’s multifaceted running game, which lost Culton’s 1,412 yards on 237 rushing attempts but has kept rolling by spreading the carries around.
Having the Class 2A 200-meter champion at the position certainly has helped.
Junior Dion Hooker played backup to Culton last season, but this year he’s taken on the first-string role, rushing for 219 yards on 44 carries.
Hooker has the athletic talent to take on the position. Now, he’s learning the nuances of the position, including having the patience to wait for holes to open up.
“Having speed is one thing,” Hooker said. “But as a running back, you have to know how to control your speed, like how to hit a hole, slowing down or speeding up. You just need to know how to maintain control and know when to use it.”
Hooker also plays defensive back, so the ability to give him periodic breaks has been huge, especially while he works through an ankle injury.
“Dion is very valuable to us defensively,” Ryan said. “We don’t have too many two-way players. This gives Dion a chance to get off the field as he works into better and better shape.”
And the running game doesn’t stop there.
Quarterback Devin Mottet wasn’t a huge factor in Sycamore’s rushing attack after suffering a high-ankle sprain early last season. But this year, he’s shown he can be as effective on the ground as any quarterback in the area, running for 218 yards on 34 carries.
“He’s been outstanding this year,” Hurley said of Mottet. “We all knew he could pass, and we all knew he was a pretty good runner, too. But he’s shown plays, not only on designed runs, where he can scramble and get big yards.”
This year, Mottet leads the Spartans in average yards a carry at 6.4, Hooker leads them in carries, and Hurley is tied for the lead with four touchdowns as a power running back. With plenty of options on the ground, the Spartans have shown they are fine without Culton’s star power.
“Dion’s the main guy, but they’re not afraid to put me in, or even Derek Massier, so we get a lot of rest,” Hurley said. “Our running game hasn’t been what it was last year when it was predominantly Austin Culton. It’s been three or four guys getting a lot of carries. It’s been awesome.”