By BLAKE TOPPMEYER
Herald-Whig Sports Writer
During Jordan Osborne's 2011 sophomore football season, the first would-be tackler from Galesburg probably would have dropped him.
Even in, say, Week 3 of the 2012 season, Osborne might have escaped the first tackler but likely would have been dropped by the second.
By Week 8 of last season, the Quincy High School running back was an evolved player.
So when Osborne met a Galesburg defensive lineman as Osborne turned the corner carrying the football, he wasn't going down easily. The new and improved Osborne was just taking shape, however, so him eluding a tackle wasn't exactly expected.
"A guy wrapped him up completely, and I turned and I thought he was tackled," QHS fullback Malique Robbins said, recalling the play. "Then Jordan's in the end zone a few seconds later celebrating."
After Osborne broke free from the first tackle attempt, it was only the beginning.
"Somehow I slipped out of (the first tackle), juked the next guy and stiff-armed someone," Osborne said.
Osborne raced 75 yards for a touchdown. It came as part of a sparkling final three-game stretch that has QHS coach Rick Little and the Blue Devils expecting more out of Osborne this season. Asked what needs to happen for Osborne to take the final step in his progression as a running back, QHS senior lineman Quentin Lefever figured it's pretty simple.
"Just turn on the lights," Lefever said. "He'll put on a show."
That show has been a work in progress. Osborne spent 2011 as a speedy return man and backup running back for QHS, but he lacked strength. Back then, a hard breath was nearly enough to knock him over. In 2012, Osborne took Robbins' halfback position, as Robbins slid to fullback -- arguably the most important position in Little's Wing-T.
The plan was for Robbins and Osborne to form a 1-2 punch much like the duo of fullback D.J. Powell and halfback Alex McNay that led QHS to a 7-3 record and a playoff berth in 2009.
That idea didn't go off as planned, however. Osborne gained 178 yards on 44 carries in the first six weeks combined, and the offense was forced to essentially become the Malique Robbins Show. Opposing defenses knew it, too.
"Last year, we had high hopes for him, and I told Jordan this, I was a little disappointed in him early," Little said.
Then, in Week 7, Osborne became the player he was expected to be. He gained 180 yards on eight carries with three touchdowns in QHS's 51-20 win over United Township.
"A switch just flipped," Little said.
That game kick-started a three-game stretch during which Osborne racked up 351 rushing yards on 35 carries. The impact on the offense was noticeable. QHS's offense averaged 23.7 points per game in Weeks 1-6, and that average jumped to 33.7 points per game during Osborne's surge.
"This year I have to be consistent," Osborne said. "It's my senior season, so I have to go out with a bang and make sure we get to the playoffs and make sure we go as far as we can."
Osborne and Robbins are good friends, and their roots in the program go deep. They were the ball boys during their eighth-grade year for that 2009 team with Powell and McNay.
"Every now and again, I'll pop in a highlight film and see little Jordan and Malique on the sideline, running and getting the tee and being the ball boys," Little said. "He was a good player then."
Still, Osborne was a 5-foot-8, 120-pound ball boy. Gaining weight and strength has been a gradual process, but now he's up to 5-11 and just a shade over 170 pounds.
"I've been lifting a lot this offseason, so if (Little) needs me to carry it 15 times per game, I'll carry it 20 times," Osborne said.
If Osborne can hold up over more carries, that should lighten the load on Robbins, who gained 1,050 yards on 157 carries last season.
"He's a lot stronger. He's a lot faster. He's a lot smarter," Robbins said of Osborne.
He's seemingly a lot more prepared to be the wingman Robbins needs.
"I can be the Robin to his Batman," Osborne said. "There's not just one of us they have to stop. There's both of us."