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Star tailback embraces new role

12/01/2013, 4:31pm PST
By Craig Malveaux

Tyler Herburger transitions to linebacker following last season's season-ending injury

Clothed in St. Augustine apparel, Tyler Herburger hobbled the sidelines at Escondido high school, relegated to a cheerleader, sans the pom poms.

The season-opening starting tailback, who had sustained a season-ending injury in the regular season, applauded, high-fived, shouted encouragement and eventually consoled teammates in the wake of 35-21 defeat in the CIF Division II championship last season.

“It brought me to tears, watching,” Herburger said. “I couldn’t possibly help them.”

At least not in that capacity.

Monday, two-seeded St. Augustine (10-2) returns to the section championship where they encounter eighth-seeded Mission Bay (12-1) at Qualcomm Stadium.

Again, Herburger will be watching Saints’ tiny dynamo Elijah Preston shake defenders with shift-on-a-dime jukes and quickness from the sidelines.

However, this time, it’ll be because of Herburger’s new role with St. Augustine — chasing down ball carriers and squeezing through gaps, plugged by offensive linemen, as a “rover” linebacker.

“It’s a chance to redeem myself,” Herburger said.

In Week 3, against Otay Ranch last season, Herburger cut up field on a routine carry and plummeted to the ground, holding his leg.

“It was a freak accident,” said Herburger, who tallied 504 yards and seven touchdowns on 86 carries.

One that fractured the right tibia during a non-contact play, Herburger’s quad muscle tugging the bone out of place.

He received a walking boot and an order to sit the remainder of the season, opening up the opportunity for Preston to receive the lion’s share of carries.

Plugged into the starting role, Preston terrorized defenses for 1,409 yards and 14 touchdowns on 9.53 yards per carry while averaging 156.5 yards per contest.

During exit meetings last season, Sanchez delivered the news to his then ailing tailback.

Instead of returning as the workhorse, Herburger would share touches at running back and transition to linebacker, allowing Preston the opportunity to build on his freshman campaign.

“It started with the expectations. We have a philosophy at St. Augustine that the best players will play and our next philosophy is that we play kids at positions that will help us win,” Sanchez said.

“Tyler is at the top of my list of players with great character and great unselfishness, so he understood that we needed him in another area and he unselfishly said it’s all about winning, so put me where you see fit.”

Thrust into a new position, Herburger struggled learning defensive concepts, verbiage and the coverage schemes. Teammates inched him into appropriate positions on the field, pointed out gaps for blitzes and reminded him of coverage assignments.

“I was completely lost at first,” Herburger said.

“My coaches and teammates pretty much taught me the position from scratch, so I was basically learning the position on the job.”

His sacrifice left him fifth on the team in total tackles with 83 and second in rushing, racking up 686 rushing yards and seven touchdowns.

“Tyler has been our MVP, no question about it,” Sanchez said. “He’s been a true blessing in disguise.”

Something, Herburger understood through time.

“Sure, it was a tough pill to swallow at first, but the team is most important to me,” Herburger said.

“I was willing to do whatever was going to help our team achieve the goal of winning a CIF title, even if that meant fewer carries and learning a completely new position.”

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