CEDAR RAPIDS — A temporary fix could become a permanent solution.
With injuries and conflicts depleting the running back corps during spring workouts, Coe Coach Tyler Staker turned to receiver Mitch Stopko to fill in for reps in practice.
The former Clear Creek Amana ball carrier was happy to oblige and proved to be a viable addition to the Kohawks backfield.
“We thought about it over spring ball and the summer and decided this is a good move for us as an offense and program,” Staker said. “I approached him about it, if he’d want to do it. He was all for it. He’s done really well at picking up our offense and his assignments at running back.”
So, when you peruse the Coe football roster you will notice Stopko is now designated as a running back for the first time in his three years in the program. He will get to display the skills the coaches saw in the offseason when the Kohawks open the season, hosting Augustana (Ill.) at Clark Field beginning at 1 p.m.
Stopko is expected to join Coe’s top returning rusher from a year ago, Tyler Dralle, and Clevon Catchings in the backfield.
“I feel comfortable back there,” said Stopko, who had eight carries last season and a touchdown. “It’s something I’ve always grown up playing.”
Stopko was a running back for the Clippers, averaging 4.57 yards per carry in three varsity seasons. He carried the ball 59 times his senior season in a crowded CCA backfield.
The junior has been a slot receiver for the Kohawks, ranking second on the team with 338 receiving yards on 29 catches last season. Stopko has 37 receptions for 422 yards and four scores in his first two seasons, three TD catches a year ago.
Stopko made the transition, but it did take time to get acclimated to the new role.
“Running back is kind of an instinct position,” Stopko said. “You follow your pullers and blocks and they’ll take you to the right place.”
Stopko’s speed could cause fits for some defenses. He adds the ability to make big gains when he has the ball and can get into the open field, according to Staker.
“He did a great job with the ball in his hands,” Staker said. “He gives us some start and stop ability. He has the ability to hit the home run and bust off some explosive plays.”
The Kohawks have a diverse rush attack. With the hopes Stopko can add some quickness and a big-play threat, Dralle brings a physical and punishing style, resulting to 452 yards in six games last year.
“We’ll definitely complement each other well,” Dralle said. “Hopefully, we can make some big plays together.”
Removing the player from the receiver position doesn’t mean removing the receiver from the player. Stopko could create coverage problems for opposing defenders. Don’t be surprised if catching passes remains part of his contribution.
“I also feel since I’ve played receiver in previous years I can bring an asset with my hands and route running,” Stopko said. “I feel that is another dynamic I bring to the backfield for us.”
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