By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Ashton Shumpert’s first carry of 2011 changed his entire season.
Tupelo’s talented tailback, a 1,300-yard rusher as a sophomore, suffered a stress fracture in his lower leg following a 15-yard gain against Pontotoc Aug. 12 in a preseason jamboree.
A hobbled Shumpert rushed for 19 yards on 10 carries in the season opener against Lafayette.
“I played because I wanted to help my team,” Shumpert said of his limited effort against Lafayette. “I knew after the first quarter I wouldn’t make it. I knew something was wrong.”
Tupelo’s feature back was sidelined the next three games.
“We haven’t been able to use him like we wanted to because he got hurt,” Tupelo offensive coordinator Andy Crotwell said. “In a perfect world, without the injury, we wanted him to carry it 15 to 20 times, throw to him five or six times … use him in the wildcat some.”
When Shumpert returned to the lineup Sept. 23 against Columbus, Crotwell got a glimpse at what might have been. The 205-pound back rushed for 97 yards on 18 carries and caught three passes for 42 yards from quarterback Luke Hobson.
A new challenge
However, Hobson went down with a leg injury late in the Columbus game and has been sidelined since. With Hobson sidelined, Shumpert has seen some work at quarterback.
“Playing quarterback has been a good experience for me,” said Shumpert, who struggled at QB against South Panola, being held to minus yardage rushing. “I’ve only had a few weeks to get used to it.”
Since his return, Shumpert has 139 carries for 761 yards rushing and seven touchdowns. He rushed for a season-high 271 yards on a season-high 37 carries in last week’s Division 1-6A win against Horn Lake. He rushed for a career-high 291 last year against Southaven.
He’s also had back-to-back 34-carry games for 176 and 152 yards against Grenada and Southaven.
“He’s been very impressive,” Crotwell said. “He wasn’t even 100 percent against Columbus and Grenada. He’s a workhorse.
“He can carry it 35 times a game or line up in the wildcat and run or throw. He can do whatever you want him to do.”
Tupelo hosts top-ranked Olive Branch at 7 p.m. Friday in the final regular-season game. The Wave clinched a postseason berth last week with its win at Horn Lake.