Columbus High senior Rylee Iburg has found a home in the Discoverer backfield with a corps of running backs that all seem to fit the same mold.
Whether it's Iburg, Liam Blaser or Levi Bloomquist - the three backs on the team with the most carries - each of the trio has a physical element to their game. They won't necessarily run by you; they'll run over you. Perhaps its the wrestler's mentality all three share that has added a physical nature to the Columbus running game.
Wherever that hard-nosed style comes from, it's helped develop an offense that can generate yards and points in a variety of ways as the run sets up the pass and vice versa. Since the start of the season, Iburg has been in the middle of it all and playing a much larger role than he expected when he moved from quarterback this summer.
Iburg wanted to help the team win, and he knew he couldn't do that anymore as the backup to Brody Mickey. Yet, it's not just playing time that he was after.
Since that decision, he's never looked back. It's one thing to be the quarterback and play the most important position in all of sports, it's another to be finding ways to contribute to a 6-1 team that has all the makings of a long playoff run.
Iburg prefers the latter. He's found peace in his decision to switch and understands there are more factors at work than his own success.
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"You're not always going to get the ball, and some nights you might not be the one who's making all the plays. Sometimes you've got to take that as a teammate and let the other guys get it all," Iburg said. "It's fun to play a part but it's also fun to win."
Columbus is averaging over 200 yards per game on the ground, has produced 19 touchdowns and generates over 5 yards per carry. That's only somewhat improved from last year, but maybe also unexpected considering Iburg, Blaser and Bloomquist only had 47 of the team's 363 carries a year ago.
Any way you look at it, even with a marginal increase, Columbus is on pace to have its best year running the football in Class A in a decade or maybe more, according to stats available online. Iburg is leading the way with 6.5 yards per carry, has 14 catches for 209 and has scored five total touchdowns.
And it all might not have been were he content to wait and hope for his chance under center. Instead, Iburg came to the coaches in the summertime and asked to switch positions. Maybe there's a chance, like in the playoff game against Southeast, he would have gotten an opportunity to continue to prove himself as a quarterback. Iburg wanted to play, but he also wants to win. Those two couldn't go hand-in-hand on the sidelines.
"We saw some of that running ability as a backup quarterback last year in the playoffs when he was forced into action against Southeast," coach Craig Williams said. "He approached us this summer and asked our wide receivers coach to move to wide receiver, and he immediately looked really good, had the hands to do it and we knew he could run the football. He's not a kid who's going to run away from anybody, but man, he runs tough, and he's a physical kid on the edge and he can block."
It was only a matter of time that all those abilities led him from the edge to the backfield. Once there, it came together for Iburg rather quickly. He had just two carries for 15 yards in the season opener but then punished Norfolk to the tune of seven touches for 41 yards and a score. It was there, in a physical, run-the-clock type of game, that Iburg began to find a comfort zone.
"It was hard at first to try and learn one thing rather than focus on the whole play, but I like it a lot more," he said. "Even when I played quarterback, and we didn't run a lot of bootleg, I'd still take off and run it. I've always been a guy that likes to run it and run people over, never get out of peoples way. I've never been a guy to get out of people's way, even when I was a quarterback."
His addition has made for an interesting dynamic on offense where Columbus has found a variety of ways to create success. He never knows just how many carries he'll get each week or where he fits into the game plan, but that's a worry for the opposition as well.
"It's harder for defenses to pick who's going to run the ball," Iburg said. "We can run fakes and give it up the middle or give it on the outside and we'll still run you over just like up the middle. ... We've got speed, we can hit people and teams just don't know what's coming. Even if we go spread, we can go up the middle and play smash-mouth."
Iburg and Columbus High welcome in No. 2 Bellevue West on Friday. It's a tremendous opportunity to shock the rest of the state and earn some respect. But the build up isn't likely to distract this group. All season, coaches and players have talked about a confidence borne of togetherness. Columbus finds itself at 6-1 and headed to the playoffs largely, the Discoverers say, because they don't care who gets the credit. Iburg is an example of exactly that.
"He's a team guy. Two or three times this year we've had conversations about things on both sides of the ball. One week he'll be a starter on defense. The next week it will be someone else over there," Williams said. "He's all for it. He wants to see this team succeed and he cares for his teammates."
Nate Tenopir is the sports editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.