West High senior Matthew HuffBy Ryan Murken
Your Prep Sports
IOWA CITY – It takes patience to be a good running back.
Other qualities like speed, strength and vision are imperative but the best backs are also patient.
Those great running backs wait for the play to develop and when the right time comes they explode.
Matthew Huff is a patient running back.
Huff had to wait three years for his chance to seize a starting position in the West High backfield but when his opportunity came, like any good back Huff burst through.
After spending last season playing safety Huff has returned to his natural position at running back and has provided a boost to the West High ground game.
Huff rushed for 100 yards in each of his first two varsity starts at running back to help West High open the season 2-0 for the first time since 2013.
“We had two good backs and that allowed us to use Matt on defense but he was a stud running back at the sophomore level,” West High coach Garrett Hartwig said. “I’m happy for him because this is a long time coming for him.”
Huff arrived at the varsity level last season ready to contribute.
With seniors Yeshuwa Hicks and Mason Carter returning at running back Huff found a home at safety.
Huff carried the ball three times for 11 yards in the season opener against Cedar Rapids Kennedy but quickly switched his focus to defense full-time.
In his first season as a defensive only player Huff finished third on the team with 54.5 tackles.
“Last year was stressful because I was trying to learn offense and defense even though I didn’t get a lot of reps on offense I was trying to remember both sides of the ball,” Huff said. “This year I can stay focused on my position and help the guys get better at their position and hopefully I can execute more rather than just trying to cram everything into my head.”
With Hicks and Carter lost to graduation and reinforcements such as sophomore Cole Mabry joining the secondary Huff made the transition back to offense for his senior season.
The transition has been seamless.
“Transitioning back to offense felt more comfortable for me because that’s what I’m used to playing,” Huff said. “Defense was kind of an exciting new thing to do.”
Huff has excelled in his natural position this season.
In his first career start at running back he rushed for 170 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries in a 42-17 win over Southeast Polk.
“I had to step up and accept my position,” Huff said. “We had two great backs last year in Mason Carter and Yeshuwa Hicks so I just had to stay patient. I never lost my ability on offense. I watched them and it was kind of like a mentor moment. I had to improve and see what they did and put it in my game.”
Huff followed up his debut performance with 112 yards and a touchdown in a road win at Muscatine last week
Huff has rushed for 282 yards and two touchdowns this season while averaging 7.1 yards per carry.
“He’s a patient runner, he has great balance, good vision and he gets to top speed in two steps which is what you want,” Hartwig said. “That is what separates him from a lot of high school backs. He is fast but, he’s not the top end speed guy but he is fastest enough to take it to the house.”
With only three career carries before this season the early season success for Huff has come as a surprise to some.
The success hasn’t surprised his head coach.
“I’m not going to make it sound like I knew it was going to happen but I’m not surprised either,” Hartwig said. “We have two really good running backs (junior Andre White) that worked their butts off. They aren’t the biggest kids but they worked hard all offseason and they do what they are coached to do.”
The emergence of Huff has brought lift to a West High running game that averaged 102 yards per game and 3.6 yards per attempt last season.
West High is averaging 230 rushing yards per game and 5.6 yards per attempt this season.
The success in the run game has helped the Trojans average 466 yards and 36.5 points through two games.
“It feels good because last year we didn’t have that much success in the rushing game,” Huff said. “This year it’s a new team and I think if we can establish the run and since we have a good pass game we are more of a threat this year.”