When one pictures the physical attributes of a “workhorse” running back — the kind of guy capable of toting the ball 20 or 30 times in a game and not wearing down — one doesn’t necessarily picture someone who stands 5-foot-7 and weighs 177 pounds.
But for the past two seasons, Peyton Emberton has been that guy for Whiteland anyway.
The diminutive senior runs with a ferocity that belies his size, and he’s the lead horse in a Warrior backfield that comes into Saturday’s Class 5A state championship game having rushed for just shy of 4,000 yards on the year.
Emberton has accounted for 1,297 of those on his 200 carries, scoring 11 touchdowns in the process. (He’s also caught six passes for 48 yards.)
Whiteland head coach Fisher praises Emberton’s physical and mental toughness, as well as his steady demeanor and even steadier output.
“He’s just really consistent,” Fisher said. “There’s nothing flashy about Peyton Emberton. It’s all substance. He buys into ‘4 yards a play, can’t lose,’ and he is the definition of 4 yards a play.”
After getting 24 carries as a sophomore behind All-State running back Chase Valentine, Emberton stepped into the lead backfield role as a junior, running the ball 177 times for 976 yards over 10 games. He had at least 13 carries in every contest, with a high of 27 against Mooresville, and he finished the year with four 100-yard efforts.
He’s had seven such games this fall, with season highs of 26 carries and 192 yards against Lawrence North in Week 2. The more physically imposing the opponent, the more Emberton’s number gets called.
Emberton says he learned a lot from practicing with Valentine, who was also a good bit smaller than your prototypical alpha back but as tough as they come. He believes that emulating Valentine’s practice habits and work ethic has helped him get similar results these past two seasons.
But how does he withstand all of the pounding from bigger defenders and come right back to do it again the next week?
“It’s really just mental,” Emberton said, “and trying to heal our bodies during the week and get ready for those Friday night games. Eat healthy, drink a lot of water and just try to prepare ourselves.”
Fisher says that his team’s gritty, physical demeanor comes from an everyday effort to mold the players into that, and Emberton has been among those at the forefront. The coach calls him “one of the mentally toughest guys we’ve ever had in the backfield.”
“Physicality and toughness is part of our daily plan,” Fisher said. “It’s something that we are very intentional about, promoting that. … It’s not natural to go run into something full speed, and those guys do it, and they embrace it.”
Emberton hopes to keep on running into people full speed in the future as well; he’s not sure yet where he’ll play college football, but he’s dead set on doing so somewhere. First, though, there’s the business of his final high school game.
He’s been too caught up in preparing for it to really ponder the spectacle that awaits this Saturday night or the legacy he’ll be leaving behind. But Emberton is fully aware and appreciative of what it’s meant to him to wear a Warriors uniform, and he’ll be proud to do so this one last time.
“Playing here at Whiteland really means a lot, because everyone cares,” he said. “Everyone has been on my side and really trusted me through the process. The fans believing in us; getting there means so much.”