By Jonathan Deal
Entering the season, Torren Haley knew the odds were against him. The East Limestone senior set some lofty goals and had more than a few obstacles in his way. After eight months of hard work in the offseason and grinding it out every Friday night on the gridiron, Haley can walk away from his prep career saying he achieved most of what he set out for.
“I remember him coming to me before the year and asking me: ‘Who was the last person to rush for 1,000 yards here?’ He was thinking about it before the year started,” said East Limestone head football coach Jeff Pugh. “When he ask me that, I thought, ‘I hope he does get it, but I doubt he will.’ And that was just based off of football in region, especially when they stack the box against you.”
The hard-nosed East running back ran for more 1,000 yards this season in one of the toughest regions in the state. For his effort, Haley is the News Courier’s Offensive Player of the Year in Limestone County.
“I knew I would have to work because nobody knew who I was and it was going to be especially hard because of the schedule we had,” Haley said. “I worked really hard in the summer to meet my goals. I had goals I had set for myself. I wanted to achieve those. I felt like I had to do those things in order to play at the next level.”
What is more impressive about Haley’s 1,000 yard season is the manner in which he achieved it. The senior wasn’t running roughshod over a bunch of cupcakes. Haley faced elite defenses week-in-week-out that knew he was getting the ball.
“I hadn’t had a 1,000-yard rusher here because we like to kind of distribute the ball around,” Pugh said. “But by midseason, you start looking at the guy that is taking it up in the hole the hardest and getting it done. To have a runner that not only gets 1,000 yards for the year but also averages six yards per carry, that’s hard to do. That’s two great accomplishments for Torren.”
Becoming the school’s first 1,000-yard rusher under Pugh did not look likely before the season began. Haley had only played junior varsity the previous three seasons and was behind running backs Jevon Turner and Tristian Matthews to start the year.
“I had to work to start. I felt Jevon and Tristian were in front of me, so I had to work to start,” Haley said. “I’ve always wanted to be on the field, but I just had to work harder. Like my coach says, ‘Heart trumps talent any day of the week.’”
Haley showed how much heart he had by showing up early to workouts and staying late in the summer. By the third game of the season, Haley had established himself as the team’s feature back.
“He really ran the ball well,” Pugh said about Haley. “He separated himself both attitude-wise and he came to practice every day trying to get better. He had a mindset to get every bit of yardage he could get, even when the holes weren’t there. Because a lot of times we were outmanned up front this season against some good front sevens.
Haley finished the season with 158 carries for 1,014 yards and 12 touchdowns. He averaged 6.2 yards per carry against nine- and 10-man fronts. No game this season better summarizes what Haley was able to accomplish better than the Cullman game.
Haley ran for 197 yards and averaged more than 14 yards per carry against a team that was ranked No. 6 in the state at the time. Haley did all this in a game in which the Indians only threw one pass the entire game.
Cullman went on to win the game 30-21, but Haley still remembers his longest run of the season, an 82-yard burst up the middle on the first play of the second half.
“I told my team at halftime, everybody do their job and I promise I will score,” Haley said. “I’ve always had faith in my line. We’ve basically grown up together, all the way back to peewee. I didn’t know it was going to be that wide open, though.”
While Haley showed his breakaway speed on that play, the long run is not indicative of what type of runner the 6-foot, 2-inch, 200-pound senior really is. Haley prefers to grind out his yards, getting stronger as the game progresses.
“Good running backs make people miss. You’re not going to get good blocking every play, you’re going to have to make something happen. Torren did that for us,” Pugh said. “On of our mottos this year was: If you’re going down, I want you try to get me one more yard. If you get that yard, I want you to get me one more.”
Haley epitomized the motto with the way he kept his feet moving after first-contact. The senior kept driving his feet all the way to Auburn for the team’s final game of the season where he carried the ball a career-high 29 times for 152 yards and two touchdowns against the No. 3 team in 6A.
Haley hopes that game will show college scouts he has what it takes to play against the best.
Until then, the senior will keep those feet moving until he graduates from East Limestone in May.