The position of running back has and always will define great Tehachapi football teams. Despite the changes in formations, offensive schemes and the pace of the game, championship Tehachapi teams still ran the ball with overwhelming success. Something tells me that will never change.
It has been a rough year on running backs at the varsity level this season as the injury bug has ravished that group. What started as a promising year with a stable of ball carriers has turned into less-than-100-percent players suiting up just to give their team a shot. Admirable indeed. Players like Tanner Love and Hayden Palmer have turned in respectable performances while still nursing injuries. The game doesn’t stop when the injuries mount.
On the bright side, the future looks to be just that for the Warriors at a position in which they have relied on since the beginning of time. Fans usually see what is directly in front of them, but I learned long ago, especially while working in an athletics department, that your best team is sometimes a few years away. Development takes time. It means overcoming circumstances and simply letting the process play out.
There’s a strong stable of young running backs currently cutting their teeth on the junior varsity and freshmen teams for Tehachapi. Malik McClendon tops that list. A member of the varsity squad as a freshmen last season in California City, CIF rules force him to play at the JV level for at least one year in Tehachapi before he can join the Warriors. Probably not the worst thing for the JV Braves, who find themselves 2-0 in the South Yosemite League and in the conversation for a league title.
McClendon has a punishing downfield running style that usually ends in the delivery of a blow to the poor defender who decided to try to stop him. Just the other night he had the entire defense hanging off him in one form or another and refused to go down on a few occasions.
His teammate Luke Debruyne offers some additional hope for the future of the position as well. He’s a versatile athlete with speed around the edge and someone who has found success when he decides to cut up the field and break a few tackles.
On the freshmen Indians, Sam Orellana continues to be the go-to back for Tehachapi. This past week in the Indians' first win, he ran for four touchdowns including one on special teams. Break away speed but not afraid of contact at the line of scrimmage. The Indians have been getting better each week, so their first win comes as no surprise. I’ve always believed that the role of the freshmen and junior varsity teams isn’t necessarily to win but to develop and prepare players for the varsity level. That’s absolutely the case this season.
However, my writing someone’s name in the paper or taking notice doesn’t make them the next savior of the THS running game. It doesn’t guarantee a championship or a place in the record books. That is reserved for those who put the work in, who live in the weight room and who understand that the words “summer vacation” don’t apply to them.
While this year might be a tough one, there are pieces in place to improve that trend in the years to come. We as fans aren’t very patient, but sometimes you have to wait for the bread to rise before digging in. With what we have in the oven on the ball carrier front, I don’t believe that wait will be unbearable.
Corey Costelloe has covered the NCAA, professional and local sports for more than 20 years as a reporter and broadcaster. A THS graduate, he now resides and works in Tehachapi. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed are his own.