DAYTON — Austin Fletcher has had his sights set on the single-season rushing record ever since he entered Dayton High, and barring unforeseen circumstances, his quest will become fact tonight.
Fletcher, who has gained 1,314 yards this season, needs just 35 yards today against Sparks to break Eric Hopper’s single-season rushing record of 1,348 yards set back in 2005.
“My freshman year I saw the record and told myself that I wanted to break it,” Fletcher said Tuesday morning. “But I didn’t think I was going to be able to break it this year because Skyler (Berntson) and I were supposed to split time at running back. I didn’t think there was anyway I was going to be able to break it.”
However, as the yards piled up — 225 vs. Truckee, 229 against South Tahoe, 269 vs. Wooster and 169 vs. Elko — it suddenly looked doable. Half of his yards have come in the last three weeks, and they are coming despite the fact that teams are game-planning to stop him.
“I think it was after the Wooster game,” said Fletcher when asked when he thought the record was within reach. “I had a big game, and it put me over 1,000. I just needed less than 300 over the next three weeks.
“It’s an honor (to have a chance to break the record). It shows that we’ve (the offense) have put in the work.”
And, considering the only time he’s gained less than 100 was against Spring Creek (85 yards), it was a pretty safe bet.
“He’d be the first to tell you that he’d rather win than set the record,” Dayton coach Rob Turner said. “I started looking at it and thought it might be doable with two games left. We got killed against Elko, and he still got 169 yards. It had been seven years when Hopper broke the old record. I hope I don’t have to wait another seven years before I have a guy as good as Austin.
“It’s funny, but I always pictured Austin as a defensive star. I knew he’d be our guy on offense. We always had guys like Tyler Firestone and Cody Yeater on offense; we had other guys that could help us out.”
Turner said that he wants to honor Fletcher before next week’s season finale against Fernley.
A change in Dayton’s offensive approach may have benefitted Fletcher immensely. The Dust Devils ran a tight double-wing offense where they would throw 3-4 times a game. This year, Dayton is showing a lot more balance.
“Somewhat,” Turner said when asked about the new offense and benefit to Fletcher. “I think he picks up yards no matter what offense we’re running. In the double-wing, he’d get beat up in practice. This is a little more open. We don’t have zero splits. ... Would he have broke the record if we didn’t change the offense? I don’t know.”
“I really like the new offense,” Fletcher said. “I feel like it fits me better. In the old offense, there was just one hole to run to. In this offense there are many holes and I get to choose.”
And, if there is any sort of opening, you can bet Fletcher is going to find it. Great backs have great vision, good speed and power. Fletcher has all three.
“I feel I have great vision,” Fletcher said. “I’m seeing where the holes are; where the lanes are going to be. Most of it is instinctual, but not all of it. Reps help.”
Another thing that sets Fletcher apart from his peers is his work ethic.
“I wake up at 5 every morning, eat breakfast and then go work out (River Vista Fitness) until 7,” Fletcher said. “I did it last year, too. Playing in such a physical offense, it helped me tremendously. It kept me healthy.”
“He’s so much stronger now,” Turner said. “He eats right and takes care of himself. He rolled his ankle a couple of times (earlier in his career) to the point where he missed some serious time.”
The 6-foot 195-pound Fletcher is so strong and runs so hard, rarely will one guy be able to bring him down. He doles out more punishment than he takes.
Despite the constant pounding from playing tailback and middle linebacker, he has stayed healthy. It doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have days where he is extremely sore. Last weekend was one of those times. He rushed for 169 yards in the 47-7 loss to Elko.
“This past Saturday I couldn’t get out of bed,” Fletcher said. “The most productive thing I did that day was take a shower.”
There are times when Fletcher has to sit out a play here and there whether he likes it or not.
“He’s pretty good about coming to me,” Turner said. “If he needs a break he’ll tell me. I check on him. I’ll see if his head is drooping in his stance. He isn’t going to put himself or the team in jeopardy.”
“If I had a big run, I’d sit out a couple of plays on defense just to catch my breath and then I’d be right back in there,” Fletcher said. “I’d rather be in there the whole game.”
On defense, Fletcher is averaging 10 tackles a game with a couple of interceptions. His offensive numbers are so impressive that sometimes his defense can be overlooked.
“He is one of those kids in the league where teams have to game plan for him on both sides of the ball,” Turner said. “There are other kids in the league who are good, but Austin stands out above the rest.”
Fletcher will play football somewhere next year; it’s just a matter of whether it will be at the 2-year or 4-year level. Fletcher has had contact with both Western Oregon University and the University of Nevada. He attended summer camps at both places.
“They are the top two,” Fletcher said. “I went to Western Oregon’s camp last summer to play linebacker. They had me play me play some running back, and their offensive coordinator liked the way I played. I met coach (Scott) Hazelton at UNR, and he said they were interested in me as an outside linebacker.I just finished sending out about 20 mid-season tapes.”
Besides the two aforementioned schools, Fletcher mentioned Cal-Poly, Montana and Weber State.
“It would be nice if he ended up being an FBS guy, if he’s interested in that,” Turner said. “I’d love to see him get a look from a Big Sky school. I don’t have the experience to find the right fit (for him).”
Hopefully schools will give those tapes a serious look and realize Fletcher is legit.