By David Krueger Herald Writer
Marysville Pilchuck running back Austin Joyner carried the ball just 100 times during the 2013 football season.
He made the most out of each and every carry.
Joyner ran for 1,511 yards — averaging 15.1 yards per carry — with 21 touchdowns. The 5-foot-10, 190-pound junior, who had the second-highest rushing total in Wesco 3A, scored once every five times he touched the ball and helped lead the Tomahawks to the first round of the 3A state tournament.
As a result, Joyner is The Herald’s Offensive Player of the Year.
“From an offensive standpoint, every time he touches the ball there’s truly a chance he can take it the entire distance,” Marysville Pilchuck head coach Brandon Carson said. “If you look at his carries and how many yards he’s getting per carry it’s ridiculous. Once every five times he touched the ball he scored.”
Joyner finished with about 100 yards less than Mountlake Terrace’s Chance Ragsdale, who had more than 130 more carries than Joyner during the season. But it’s his average, not total number of yards, that Joyner cares about the most. He doesn’t worry about how many carries he gets, he just wants to make the most of each and every one.
“Some people look at you for how many yards you put up and that sort of thing,” Joyner said. “But all that is is just how many carries you have. If you have a lot of carries, you have a lot of yards. (Average) is just something else to look at. That’s what matters to me.”
Joyner, who also had seven receptions for 140 yards and another touchdown, is dangerous for many reasons, said Carson, who has coached several strong running backs at Marysville Pilchuck — including Austin Denton, who set the school’s rushing record in 2008.
“(Joyner is) probably the best running back I’ve coached. And we’ve had some good ones,” Carson said. “The Denton kid was special. … But when you put all the things together (Joyner’s) probably the best we’ve had. Probably the best we’ll ever have.”
Perhaps even more impressive than Joyner’s numbers is the fact that he had such a strong year despite several nagging injuries. He had an ankle sprain in Week 3 that lingered for the rest of the season. After the Tomahawks’ final game, Joyner tweeted out that he had a sprained shoulder, sprained ankle, sprained medial collateral ligament and strained hip flexor, along with “time to heal up.”
“It was bad. It still is,” Joyner said. “I can feel it here just standing. I don’t usually play for me. It’s the seniors’ last year so I just suck it up and do what I can.”
Joyner said that on a scale of 1-10 the pain was “about a seven” on Friday nights. He took Ibuprofen to power through the injuries but would still have to come out for a couple plays from time to time to get treatment.
“It didn’t change the way I ran. I just — it hurt,” Joyner said. “But I still ran the same way.”
It’s the way Joyner runs that sets him apart, Carson said.
“He’s got that extra gear that he just blows your angles up,” Carson said. “He has some moves in the open field that make him elusive. He’s a strong, powerful kid and he can run through a tackle. Shoot, if you have one of those three that’s a good high school back. He’s got all three. He’s special.”
Joyner says his running style is pretty simple.
“When I see a hole I hit it,” he said. “I don’t tip toe around like some people and try to turn the corner every time. I change up what I do and I when I find a hole I hit the hole.”
Opposing coaches trying to prepare for Joyner have all but given up.
“If there is (a way to stop him) we haven’t found out how,” said Jay Turner, who coaches the Tomahawks’ Wesco 3A North rival Oak Harbor. “The guy is just so much better than anybody else on the field. He just plays at another level. As a defensive coach I don’t enjoy seeing him do it to us, but watching him on film I can see why people would pay money to watch him. The way he plays football is amazing.”
Joyner was promoted to varsity his freshman year at Marysville Pilchuck, getting called up after the freshman team played Oak Harbor.
“We had a pretty good freshman team that year and he just ran through it left and right,” Turner said. “It’s like, ‘Holy smokes why can’t we tackle this kid?’ And he was playing varsity the next week.”
In three varsity games as a freshman, Joyner had 31 carries for 274 yards and four touchdowns. He raised that significantly during his sophomore campaign, rushing 147 times for 2,038 yards and 22 touchdowns. Last season, he finished just 19 yards shy of Denton’s Marysville Pilchuck record.
Joyner has his eye on the record for next season.
“I’m pretty motivated. I know I’m going to get the ball a lot more,” Joyner said. “I think I’m going to break a little bit of records next year. … I’m going to get better, bigger, faster.”
With so many big leads this season, Joyner’s games ended early numerous times. Carson said the Tomahawks tried to get Joyner more carries, but when he scored every fifth time he touched the ball, Marysville Pilchuck often found itself with big leads.
Next season, Carson envisions a few more carries for his star running back.
“It’s ridiculous. We try to get him as many carries as we can,” Carson said. “I’m sure we’ll have to get him quite a few more carries than he had this year. This year it wasn’t for lack of trying.”
In his Marysville Pilchuck career, Joyner has 278 carries for 3,824 yards — an average of 13.8 per carry — and 47 touchdowns. Joyner, who was also an All-Wesco 3A first-team defensive back his sophomore season, is a threat on both sides of the ball.
Recently, Joyner committed to play at the University of Washington once his high school career is over. He said he liked the family atmosphere at Washington, and he wanted to stay close to home.
Joyner, who plans to graduate early next season so he can attend spring practices at UW, envisions a similar situation to former Bellevue star Myles Jack, who plays both offense and defense at UCLA.
But with one key difference.
“It’ll be sort of reversed. I’m going to play offense and some defense, where (Jack is) playing defense and some offense,” Joyner said.
Joyner’s UW commitment was met with excitement by all — especially the other Wesco 3A North coaches, who are eager to watch him play at the next level.
“It’s hard to root against him. He’s a nice, good kid. He plays the game right,” Turner said. “I think we’ll be a lot more excited in Wesco in another year when he’s wearing the purple and gold.”