Antonio Thigpen Jr. is doing his level best to help Edwardsville offset the season-ending shoulder injury to junior Dionte Rodgers.
Thigpen, a junior running back, had 17 carries for 151 yards and two touchdowns Friday as the Tigers overwhelmed O’Fallon 62-14 in a Southwestern Conference game.
Rodgers, also a junior, is out for the season. His absence has thrust Thigpen into a starting role, and Thigpen is enjoying his time on center stage.
“When Rodgers went down, I knew that I was next up, so everybody was telling me it was my time to show everybody what I’ve got,” said Thigpen, a 5-foot-6, 165-pounder. “That’s what I come out here to do every day. Our O-line does a very good job blocking.”
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Tigers coach Matt Martin didn’t anticipate a major role for Thigpen, suggesting that he probably would have been a backup who received perhaps five carries a game.
“Antonio grew up before we even hit the summer,” Martin said. “He started showing maturity. That maturity and work ethic allowed him to be in this role. And (since) Dionte got hurt, he’s taking advantage of it. You’ve got to play this game with a chip on your shoulder, like you’ve got something to prove. He’s trying to prove he’s not just a backup.
“Sometimes you’re not that bad; you’re just stuck behind great players.”
Thigpen’s first touchdown came on a 2-yard run late in the first quarter and put the Tigers (3-3, 3-1 SWC) ahead 14-0. Thigpen’s 51-yard touchdown less than five minutes into the second quarter made it 21-0.
Edwardsville led 35-7 at halftime and extended it to 49-7 with 7:05 left in the third quarter on junior Lavontas Hairston’s second touchdown catch from junior quarterback Kendall Abdur-Rahman, who also had a 15-yard touchdown run.
Freshman Justin Johnson rushed for two touchdowns in the onslaught, which dropped the Panthers to 2-4 and 2-2.
Sophomore Eric Epenesa, the brother of Iowa defensive lineman AJ Epenesa, had a 28-yard touchdown catch from sophomore Nicholas Hemken in the fourth quarter.
Thigpen said Rodgers is still making an impact despite not being in uniform.
“He helps me out a lot, every single day,” Thigpen said. “He says a lot of stuff to motivate me. Me and him are like brothers. We always had that connection, but now we’ve really got that connection because he knows what’s going on (with me). I love him for that.
“Most guys, when they go down or something happens with their grades, they want to quit football. But Dionte’s out here every practice, every film (session).”
Thigpen said being fearless is his No. 1 asset. He doesn’t consider himself fast.
“I love contact,” he said. “Contact helps my adrenaline rush. It helps me run the ball harder. The first time I get hit, I’m like, ‘Coach, give it back to me.’
“Speed has never been my greatest ability. I think my greatest ability is just running the ball hard. By me running the ball hard, it makes opponents feel it. Dionte is very good with his speed and his agility. I’m trying to get to where he’s at.”
David Wilhelm: @DavidMWilhelm