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RGR Spotlight | 'We're going to give it our all to change the culture': RB James Hulse sends a clear message for 2022
The final edition of the six-part RGR Spotlight series.
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On Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021 — the day before Newton’s regular season matchup with then-undefeated Maize on the gridiron — running back Kenyon Forest announced via Instagram that his senior season was over after just two games following an injury suffered the week prior in a loss to Derby.
The loss of Forest, who was a Sports in Kansas preseason top 25 player at his position, severely stung a young offense that was still searching for its identity as a unit. In fact, the injury left just one running back still listed on the varsity roster: James Hulse.
Hulse, a sophomore at the time, made his varsity debut in the backfield the next day against the team that would eventually go on to finish as the state runner-up in 5A. From there, he split time with several other ball carriers.
But in 2022, he knows it’s up to him to step up in a big way — especially with the change of pace he had to become accustomed to a year ago.
“The speed is way faster [on varsity],” Hulse said. “Just two weeks before [the Maize game] I was playing on JV where it’s mostly just the better athlete would win — which is still the case in the varsity games but it’s a lot more of the whole team having to be completely sound together.”
He added, “It makes you realize that there are a lot more good athletes out there than you think there are. It took some time but as the season went on I was able to get used to the speed and level of play we would see. Going up against the defense during practice seemed to have helped me a lot last year…”
It’s also why Hulse has made a point of garnering speed this offseason. In addition to his football workout regimen, he’s been participating in track workouts as well in an effort to “get faster and more fluid” as he recognizes that he’s “not the big running back that is going to run everyone over.”
“I need to hit to hole hard to try to use a burst of speed to get past the defense,” he noted. “Last year I struggled at getting the past the linebackers and making moves to make them miss. I’ve been working on my strength, so hopefully [I’ll] be able to see more broken tackles this year.”
This, in combination with the vision coaches have praised Hulse for throughout his career — the ability to “find the hole even if it opens up at the backside of the line” — will allow the rising junior to take that next step and give a budding Railers offense the kickstart it needs from its rushing attack (which finished next-to-last among 5A teams in Kansas a season ago).
“There isn’t a reason we should go and win only a couple of games like last year,” Hulse said. “We have … winnable games on the schedule this year, an older team on the offensive side, and the offensive line looks better already. So I think we will be able to perform better than in the past.
I’m hoping this year with the new plays we are able to establish a run game so we don’t have to count on [passing] the whole game. And Coach [Greg] Slade doesn’t care about people playing both ways as long as you are good enough and able to handle it — so we should have the best athletes on the field most of the time.”
Hulse, like his teammates, expects a renewed sense of urgency within the Newton locker room. He understands what the inaugural season of the Slade era means for the Railers football program moving forward.
And the message couldn’t be clearer.
“We know how tough the schedule is every year but it doesn’t change the fact that we know we can succeed,” Hulse said. “The main thing we are focusing on is starting the season off 1-0.
We all know what it’s like to lose. No one wants that anymore. We are going to give it our all to change the culture.”