SULLIVAN TWP.— Matt Joppeck has been a rock for the Black River football team for three years, so it was kind of strange to see him hauling around a 20-pound boulder in early September.
Normally sure-handed, the senior running back coughed up the ball twice at key moments in Black River’s 18-15Week 2 loss to Northwestern.
The next week, assistant coach Denny Steinback brought in a huge rock from his Chippewa Lake home and had Joppeck carry it to and from the practice field each day. Any time a Black River player fumbled, he had to pick up the rock, which still sits on a desk in the coaches’ office, and run the length of the field and back with it.
“I haven’t fumbled since,” said Joppeck, who will be right in the middle of the action again tonight when the Pirates (3-4, 3-1) host Wellington (3-4, 3-1) in a pivotal Patriot Athletic Conference Stars Division showdown.
Quiet by nature, Joppeck’s running style has some similarities with his personality. At 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds, he’s not very big. With 4.7-second speed in the 40-yard dash, he’s not amazingly fast.
But just as he is with words, Joppeck is quietly efficient. His 2,833 career rushing yards rank second in school history to the 3,388 accumulated by Charlie Moskal from 1995-98, while his 32 rushing touchdowns are tied for fifth in school annals and his 202 points are seventh.
“He’s just a hard-nosed, blue-collar kid,” Black River coach Al Young said. “He’s not real flashy, but he has better quickness than you would think.
“He’s a brilliant inside runner.
He’s one of the best runners between the tackles I’ve ever seen here. He very seldom gets stopped for negative yards.”
And to think Joppeck, who also starts at outside linebacker, was basically a defensive player when he played for the junior varsity as a freshman. Then one day early in his sophomore year, the varsity was hurting for running backs, so Young threw him into the fray.
“I was nervous to be starting at running back on the varsity,” Joppeck said. “I had never played running back.”
Now Joppeck, whose 670 yards rushing this season are second in Medina County, has never stopped.
“As soon as we threw him in there, he became one of those kids we couldn’t take out,” Young said.
“His first carry, he gets 12 yards.
The second time, he gets 14. Pretty soon, we couldn’t take him out.”
That’s fine with Joppeck, an extremely polite kid who doesn’t waste much energy forming needlessly long sentences.
“I’m not much of a talker at all,” he said. “Last year in the weight room, this kid on the team told me what to say for one of my interviews. I get real nervous, but I’m talking a lot right now, actually. I’m surprised.”
Having fumbled just three times as a junior, Joppeck was equally surprised when he coughed up the ball during Black River’s loss to Northwestern.
“I felt like it was my fault we lost,” he said.
Those fumbles, thanks in part to Steinback’s boulder, have become a thing of the past. That means Joppeck is back to being a rock for Black River.
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.