Eastern Washington running back Quincy Forte is the first to admit it: He’s taking his game to a higher level because he’s riding the shoulders of his teammates.
That includes his offensive line, quarterback Vernon Adams, and especially the big stable of backs who have paved the way for Forte to run like a thoroughbred in December.
With 392 yards in two FCS playoff games, Forte has given the Eagles what they haven’t had since Taiwan Jones in 2010: a feature back – but you won’t hear that from either Forte or head coach Beau Baldwin.
“We work as a team,” Forte said. “Coach Baldwin talks about that a lot, those young guys getting a lot carries early in the year, that’s helped us a lot.”
It’s also helped Forte, who still felt a little sore on Tuesday, three days after running for 190 yards on 24 carries in a quarterfinal win against Jacksonville State.
That effort – seven days after rushing for 202 yards against South Dakota State – puts Forte at 1,131 for the season on 165 carries, for a 6.9-yard average.
To put that in perspective, Towson’s Terrance West, a finalist for the Walter Payton Award – the top FCS honor, has a 6.3-yard average and 2,349 yards coming into Saturday’s semifinal at Roos Field.
But West has carried the ball 364 times.
“I’d be sore all season if I had to carry it 25 times every game,” said Forte, a junior from Fairfield, Calif.
Early in the season, the load fell on redshirt freshmen Jabari Wilson and Jalen Moore until injuries put them on the sideline. They and Forte each got double-digit carries against Western Oregon, but the entire running game was stymied in losses at Toledo and Sam Houston State – Eastern’s lone losses.
Forte and Mario Brown carried much of the load in midseason wins over Weber State, North Dakota and Southern Utah, but no clear leader emerged as Forte refined his running style.
“He’s just so fast,” Eagles running backs coach Kiel McDonald said. “We’re just trying to slow him down, and make him understand that it’s a team game, to let the hole develop and when you see it, to use all the gifts that God gave you.”
In other words, being more patient.
“He’s running more patiently, and he’s seeing things,” Baldwin said. “He’s so fast and so explosive, but maybe wasn’t as patient in the first part of his run, but now he’s exploding.”
Of all his backs, Baldwin said the 5-foot-11, 190-pound Forte offers the best combination of power and speed. The first was on display in a workmanlike, 10-carry, 70-yard effort at Montana. A week later, he got 119 yards and two touchdowns on six carries at Idaho State.
Forte credits McDonald for his “finally” running between the tackles, “and not just bouncing everything outside.”
With the Eagles a game away from playing for the FCS title, the 21-year-old Forte is taking nothing for granted.
“It feels good to finally be the guy, but everyone’s worked hard (as) a team to get me there,” Forte said.