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Shoulder injury hasn't slowed Fugate of GR Catholic Central down, just made him switch positions

Football   | Steve Vedder

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Grand Rapids - It's not like Nolan Fugate misses playing quarterback, especially now that his name is etched in the Grand Rapids-area football record book.

But there are still times when the Grand Rapids Catholic Central senior running back wonders what it would have been like if a broken collarbone hadn't changed the direction of a promising career.

Fugate smashed a 52-year-old Grand Rapids record for rushing yards in a game when he ran for 477 in last Friday's wild 57-50 victory over Comstock Park. Fugate erased the previous record of 445 yards set by Caledonia's Tom Benedict on Nov. 12, 1965, against Kalamazoo Hackett. Fugate's total is the fourth-highest in state history, according to the Michigan High School Athletic Association.

The 6-1, 208-pound Fugate has been a running back for just three seasons. He began playing the sport at age 6 as a quarterback, and added playing safety his freshman year. After suffering a broken collarbone that ended his freshman season after just two games, Fugate returned the next season as a running back. As a junior, he rushed for over 1,800 yards and 21 touchdowns.

Fugate said the times he actually misses playing quarterback are few.

"I do sometimes," he said. "But I love playing running back. It's whatever I can do for the team."

What he did for the Cougars (7-0) last week was nothing less than amazing. He carried the ball 37 times for 477 yards, a total which would have been even greater if not for penalties. Due to penalties he had touchdown runs of 48 and 28 yards, and another run of 30 yards called back.

Fugate, who had rushed for 600 yards prior to last week, said he just loves to run the ball, whether it's at quarterback or running back.

"I don't really care," he said. "I just try to play to the best of my ability. I don't care about positions. The best part is just scoring touchdowns and hearing the crowd. There's nothing like it."

Fugate said he knew the yardage numbers were growing against Comstock Park. But he didn't know about any record until a teammate told him about surpassing Benedict after the game.

"You don't really think about it during the game. You're just doing what the coach needs you to do," he said. "It's not about stats. One of teammates told me about it later, but it didn't really hit me until later. You're just hoping to do what you're supposed to do and help your team get a win."

Catholic Central coach Todd Kolster said there is no secret what makes Fugate an outstanding runner.

"He is a hard-nosed, tough player who is getting better all the time," he said. "He had dedicated himself to football, no question. He's played well for us."

Kolster said that what sticks out most about Fugate's numbers is that they could easily be better. Because Catholic Central, which plays rival Grand Rapids West Catholic (6-1) in an O-K Conference Blue Division game on Friday at Fifth Third Ballpark, has had four 50-point leads by halftime, Fugate is rarely called on in the second half. He averages about 20 attempts per game.

"You aren't going to see crazy stats from him because there are times when he's not going to play," Kolster said. "There are times when he doesn't play much at all in the third or fourth quarters."

Fugate said he doesn't look back at playing quarterback and wonder "what if." While some might take a step back after suffering a broken collarbone, Fugate said there was never a doubt he would continue playing.

"Playing football is my life," he said. "I knew I would come back from the injury stronger. I knew I could get back to where I was."