Across all levels of organized football, it’s not uncommon for there to be a duo of running backs splitting carries in order to give each other rest at the incredibly physically demanding position. At Gustine High School, the Reds have found themselves in the unique situation of having three superstar-caliber running backs sharing time on the gridiron: senior Gio Torres, senior Aquiles Gonzalez and junior Zander Leyva.
Under first-year head coach Collin Lane and his run-heavy offensive scheme, the trio has combined to rush for over 300 yards in two of their first three games of the 2022 season. It is a phenomenon that Lane has never seen during his time around the game.
“To have three guys who are as talented as they are, it’s very rare. I really can’t remember seeing anything like this,” Lane said.
When reflecting on the success so far in the young 2022 season, the trio shared similar sentiments.
“We’ve had good seasons in the past, but nothing like this,” Torres said. “We’ve had the players to do, but to have all 11 guys on the field locked in and disciplined is what makes a difference.”
The team credits their success to Lane himself, who they say has brought the best out of the roster through his attitude and coaching philosophy.
“The dedication and the hard work we've had to do this year, we've never really put in this much work, but this year it's just since we got Coach Lane, it's been different. This year has a different feeling since we’re held to a different standard,” Torres said. “The discipline and hard work ethic we’re playing with now is amazing to see.”
Since coming to Gustine High this past summer, Lane has implemented a run-heavy offense and conditioning program designed to spread out opposing defenses and wear them out as a game goes on.
“System-wise, this offense really challenges defenses and makes them change when they face us,” Lane said. “If you want to stop us from getting six yards a carry, you have to change your defense, and once you do that, we’re good enough to take advantage of it.”
The best example of this was in their week two matchup against Johansen, when Leyva scored 20 unanswered points on his own to cap off a 34-28 comeback win.
“The thing is that we’re always fresh,” Gonzalez said. “If one of us gets tired or banged up, somebody else is ready to get in. Our O-line too, we have a good rotation.”
The offensive line that Gonzalez and his teammates praise include the likes of sophomore Isiah Prado, senior Michael Ramirez, senior Jeremy Negrete and junior Matthew Fernandez.
“It all starts with them,” Gonzalez said. “Without our offensive line giving us those running lanes, we don’t put up these numbers.”
As seniors, Torres and Gonzalez try their best to live in the moment and take in the unique Friday Night Lights experience for their final season. Nevertheless, they share similar goals of playing football at the collegiate level after they graduate next year. With this dream of continuing their playing careers, it makes the two even more motivated to make the best of their limited carries on the field this season.
“These guys are so explosive and athletic,” Lane said. “Every single time we give one of them the ball, we’re literally just expecting them to break loose at any given moment. It’s that special. To be honest, I feel bad sometimes when I have to keep one of them on the sidelines and take away some of their carries.”
While splitting carries can sometimes bring out jealousy and selfish attitudes amongst players, it is not the case in the Gustine High locker room.
“We all share a common goal, and that’s to win,” Leyva said. “If we have to cut our carries in half and whatever else it takes to win, we’ll do it.”
As a junior, Leyva is confident that the ground game can continue to be lethal once Torres and Gonzalez graduate. In their week three blowout win against Delta Charter of Tracy, the Reds were able to rest some starters and give juniors like Grant Hazen and Andrew Williams in-game opportunities, which resulted in each of them scoring rushing touchdowns.
“Definitely, this is something that I can see being successful for years to come. This offense is perfect,” Leyva said.
As the Reds look forward to the start of Southern League play on Friday, Sept. 16, Lane is continuing to evaluate what he calls “a good problem to have.”
“We’re still trying to figure out how to split the carries and our rotation as we head into league play,” he said. “The good news is we run the ball so much, we have plenty of opportunity. It's just really been trying to figure that out.”
With a 2-1 record through the first four weeks of high school football action across the state, the Reds are already knocking on the door of matching last year’s record of 3-7. Nevertheless, the Reds have bigger plans.
“We can’t get ahead of ourselves with these two wins,” Gonzalez said. “We just need to stay motivated, stay dedicated and stay on that grind.”
With what he’s seen from the sidelines thus far, Lane is confident that his team can make a splash as the season goes on and once playoff time rolls around.
“I think as long as we can stay fresh, history has proven that the teams that run the ball in October and November tend to win,” Lane said. “As long as we keep our eyes on the prize of making the playoffs and making a run at a ring, I think we have a really good chance at being successful.”