Wednesday, October 3, 2012

State's leading rusher a late bloomer

If Shadow Hills-Indio running back James Toland would've put up the numbers he has now back in his sophomore and junior seasons, he would've been one of the more highly-recruited running backs in the country, not just California.

Still, though, with a ridiculous 1,516 rushing yards through just five games, an average of 10.3 yards per carry and 23 touchdowns, people down in the Southern Section and different colleges are starting to take notice.

Toland's set back from his junior year were injuries, including a high ankle sprain in the beginning of the 2011 year. He seems to be running like he has no real ailments, with the 303.2 total rushing yards per game he's averaging. His best game was a 490-yard, seven touchdown evening in the 50-47 loss to Banning High on Sept. 21.

The 6-foot, 185-pound senior has a number of intangibles that makes him the top rusher in the state right now, plus eighth in the nation statistically according to Max Preps.

For one, he's a deadly cut back runner who can zig-zag through holes. He has an outside burst towards the sidelines that can get 3-4 defenders running from behind. His vision can explain how he's able to run around different defenders when trying to find an open hole. His final strong trait is he'll hit a second gear when sprinting with the football.

I won't lie, though, even being the state's top rusher does have flaws. He seems to be inconsistent at running with a low pad level, as I caught him running upright when hitting a hole. He's not the most powerful runner, as he tends to rely more on his ability to juke out defenders or his outside speed. Lastly, he also tends to hold the ball dangerously away from his body, which can lead to fumbles. Ironically, he's lost the rock once this year.

In the end though, it's hard to overlook the state's leading rusher with the numbers and on-field skills he possesses. His production has made him one of the better late bloomers in the California recruiting scene. He can fit a fast-pace, run-oriented offense such as a pistol or triple option. Maybe be a change-of-pace back in a pro style scheme that's heavy on the ground game. This late bloomer is exploding.


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