COLUMBIA — Through three games this season for the Columbia Eagles, junior running back Lou Isringhaus had carried the ball five times for 82 yards.
Known more for his hitting skills at middle linebacker, Isringhaus would have been happy to stay on that side of the ball.
That was before Nick Antonini (knee injury in the season opener) and Camren Shewfelt (lingering ankle injury) went down, leaving Columbia coach Scott Horner with one more option -- Isringhaus.
"I really had no thoughts about playing running back coming into the year with Nick and Camren ahead of me," said Isringhaus, who has 591 yards and five touchdowns on just 60 carries in his first three games as a starter. "They were seniors; Nick had been the backup last year and Camren had also played a lot. I figured I wouldn't really have a role at all in the offense."
Instead, Isringhaus has become like a sledgehammer in the hands of the Columbia offense.
Not one to shy away from contact thanks to his time at middle linebacker, Isringhaus either hits the hole quickly or makes one himself.
"It just always came natural to try to run through people than trying to run around them," he said. "It's something I'm proud of."
He racked up 228 yards on 30 carries last Friday in a 21-14 Cahokia Conference victory over Freeburg to earn News-Democrat Player of the Week honors.
Columbia (6-0) is second in the Associated Press Class 4A state football rankings and first in the News-Democrat Small-School Poll.
Helping the Eagles protect the lead, at one point he carried the ball seven times in a row and later broke off a 50-yard run to help seal the win.
"He just keeps pounding and pounding it," Horner said of Isringhaus, averaging 10.4 yards per carry with 65 carries for 673 yards and seven TDs. "He's a tough kid."
And while Horner didn't head into the season thinking of Isringhaus as the feature back, things have headed in that direction.
"He's not flashy," Horner said. "He's not going to be the guy that will jump over somebody or will make three cuts and make four people miss. He's going to make one guy miss, put his shoulder down and then you're going to have to have a lot of people in the open field to bring him down."
In a 48-14 win over Wesclin, Isringhaus carried the ball only six times. But on those six carries he had TD runs of 63, 61, 33 and 11 yards and finished with 186 yards overall.
"After the Wesclin game I thought OK, this might work out pretty good," he said. "I saw the holes my offensive line opened up for me."
Isringhaus admits to taking full advantage of the holes created for him by an effective offensive line led by massive tackles Grant Snow (6-foot-2, 265 pounds) and Cole Foster (6-5, 260).
"They're unbelievable," Isringhaus said. "They're both over 260 and you can't really ask for better tackles to run behind. Just running behind (Snow) is like running behind a train, you watch him on film and he's picking up kids and throwing them."
Horner said the Eagles knew all about Isringhaus' potential after watching him run wild in underclass games.
"This kid did not come from nowhere," Horner said, mentioning how the original plan was to use him on defense to save on players going both ways. "He's a kid who we gave reps to all during camp and he was prepared and was ready.
"Lou has emerged at this point as our guy and he's going to remain there. "
Snow said blocking is a fairly simple process with Isringhaus in the backfield.
"The thing about Lou is if he sees a hole of any size, he's going to hit it," Snow said. "You don't have to move people far for him to get the running lane. Everybody was expecting him to play defense this year and not to get too much time on offense. He really shined on offense and surprised a lot of people."
Horner compared Isringhaus to former Eagles star John Heineken, who helped lead the team to a second-place finish in Class 3A back in 2007.
With the injuries and uncertainty at the running back slot, Isringhaus has proven to be a solid fit. He's still fourth on defense with 24 tackles and a sack.
"I don't know if I've ever had to go three deep in our backfield, especially that early in the year," Horner said. "But he doesn't do all that without the big bulls we have up front. The holes that our linemen create could make it pretty simple for a lot of guys."
That being said, Isringhaus (5-foot, 10 inches and 185 pounds) isn't just hitting holes. He's rarely brought down on first contact and is averaging nearly 10 1/2 yards every time he touches the ball.
"He's got great vision and he's got great feet, especially for a kid that is 185 pounds and runs as hard as he does," Horner said. "He makes a lot of people miss."