Before the season started, Carson High’s Joey Thurman set some lofty goals for himself.
“I wanted to have 1,000 return yards (kickoffs and punts) and return six or more for touchdowns, and try to lead the state in returns,” said the CHS senior running back/return specialist. “I just wanted to get better this year.”
Thurman leads Division I kick returners with 693 total yards and one score heading into Friday’s homecoming game against visiting Damonte Ranch at 7 p.m. With four games left in the regular season, Thurman, who averages 34 yards a kickoff return and 8.7 per punt return, seems destined to at least attain his 1,000-yard return goal. He’s second overall in the state to Fallon’s Cameron Matzen, who has 995 kick-return yards.
Thurman has been a lethal weapon all year, but even more so the past three weeks. Against North Valleys, he returned a kickoff 98 yards for a score which led to 35 unanswered points in a big win over North Valleys. Against Reed late in the first quarter, he uncorked an 81-yard kickoff return to give the Senators a short-lived 13-7 lead.
“The two long ones we blocked it real well, and Joey would be the first to tell you that,” Carson coach Blair Roman said. “The thing with special teams is that it’s a team effort. Guys have to make their blocks. He’s done a great job on returns. He fields the ball so well.”
“I’ve always wanted to be a returner since seventh grade,” Thurman said. “The guys up front have done a great job blocking. You can’t get off long returns without some help up front. I’m doing better than I did last year. I’m getting more experience.”
Thurman is not just making big plays on special teams. Through five games, he’s carried the ball 42 times for 354 yards and four scores, including a 71-yard burst last week against Reed in the fourth quarter. The team’s leading receiver a year ago, Thurman has six catches for 131 yards and one score, an 81-yard screen pass against Reno. He leads the team in yardage from scrimmage with 485.
Nobody is happier to see the success than Roman, who has watched Thurman perform for three years on varsity. Thurman, in fact, started a couple of games his sophomore year. He has been a full-time starter at wingback the past two years.
“Joey is having the type of season I expected him to have,” Roman said. “He’s worked real hard over the last three years, and it shows. He’s been a productive player. His biggest improvement is how hard he’s running. He has confidence in the blocking schemes and what we’re trying to do. He’s hitting the holes where he needs to. He’s got that confidence that comes with maturity and experience. He’s gone from a role player to a key cog on our team. I’m glad to see he’s having success.
“His catches are down, and he’s not getting double-teamed, but teams are a lot more aware and pay attention to where he’s lining up. Alan (Cohen) and Dilyn (Rooker) have stepped up and made some good plays.”
Thurman, like any other Carson senior, wants to go out with a winning record and a deep playoff run.
“Things have started to click,” Thurman said. “It’s a nice feeling. The offensive line has been working hard this year, and I appreciate that. They (the line) are more of a unit than last year. I’ve worked hard to make myself better, and I feel I’m a lot better than I was last year. Everybody wants to run the ball. It’s a competition back there now.”
Two things have helped Thurman thrive in his final season of prep football: more strength and improved vision.
“I’m actually a lot stronger than I was last year, and that’s because of the hard work coach (Bob) Bateman puts us through,” Thurman said. “We’re all stronger. I go to my gym (after a practice or workout at Carson) and spend 90 minutes there. I’ll come out when nobody is around and work on things trying to make myself better. My vision gets better with the more reps I get. I see the defenders and I know where they will be.”
The improved vision also allows him to recognize a closed lane and bounce one way or another. That ability has allowed to make something out of nothing, and that’s a sign of a good running back.