SOUTH BELOIT—Fernando Balderas still isn’t in love with eight-man football.
It might, however, be in love with him.
Balderas, the senior South Beloit running back, is running roughshod over the 3-1 SoBos’ competition thus far this year.
He has rushed for at least 100 yards in three of the team’s four games and has 806 yards, 339 of those coming in the SoBos’ 50-24 win over Hiawatha Friday night.
Balderas, who excelled as a sophomore in the 11-man game before a dominant alternate fall season last spring as a junior, said he’s doing his best to enjoy this version of ball.
“If it were up to me, we’d still be playing 11-man,” Balderas said. “But those decisions aren’t up to me. I’ve just got to make the best of it and roll with what we have.”
What he has is a dominant style that veteran coach Jim Morrow has a lot of respect for.
“I was in the NIC-10 for more than 20 years,” Morrow said. “And Fern is as good as any of those guys. Eight-man or 11-man, the kid can flat out play.”
Morrow, in his first year at South Beloit knew he had a gem even before he saw Balderas.
“I saw him on film and when I saw he was coming out again for his senior year, I knew right away I was going to build the offense around him. And I didn’t know how he feel about it, but he’s just had a great year.”
Morrow said it took a while for Balderas to reveal his personality to him.
“When I first met him, he was a pretty guarded individual,” Morrow said. “It took a while to crack him. But he’s so passionate about the game and he’s so coachable. He comes out to practice every week to get better, and you can definitely see it on film.
“He had a key fourth-down stop on a pass breakup, and last week he wouldn’t have made because he wasn’t getting as deep in his drops. He worked on it all week, and he made the play. He absorbs everything you tell him.”
Balderas is also an ace linebacker, averaging around eight tackles per game.
“I really like playing defense,” Balderas said. “It’s pretty easy in eight-man for me. I just have to read the guards, and go make a play.”
The SoBos have a showdown coming up Saturday in Orangeville, a 4-0 squad that just defeated a previously undefeated Aquin team last week.
“We know it’s going to be a great game,” Balderas said. “I’m going to get after it and give it everything I’ve got.”
The team’s improvement has as much to do with their mentality as their physical skills.
“We’ve just come out and been really aggressive every game,” Balderas said. “We should be 4-0 (their only loss came in an overtime game in which they committed five turnovers and didn’t force any), and I’m still thinking about that game. But having that mentality has been huge for u s. We’ve got five games left, and we’re going to try and win as many of those as we can.”
Balderas said he’s interested in playing at the next level, but hasn’t explored his options too much at this point.
“That’s definitely my dream to play college football,” Balderas said. “I’m just not sure where to start. If any college showed interest, I’d be happy to talk to them.”
South Beloit running back Fern Balderas has helped lead the team to a 3-1 record. The SoBos play at Orangeville Saturday. Senior has run for 806 yards already