Through two postseason games, running back Bhayshul Tuten was Paulsboro’s human sledgehammer — swung again and again and again.
Only, it often wasn’t clear who took the worst of these hits, inflicted by Tuten: the defenders trying to bring him down or the running back himself.
Tuten would get off the grass slowly, limp to the huddle, limp off of the field. He moved gingerly along the sidelines, moved carefully in every step except, magically, during those few seconds after the ball was snapped.
Suddenly pain disappeared, and his movements were smooth and punishing.
Sixty-five carries for 317 yards in two games — battling an injured toe and nagging cramps — would appear to be an effort in sheer heart.
So to hear Tuten describe it — to hear him tell of what has really made the difference in his breakout junior season — is a bit surprising.
He talks about the finer points of the game.
“One of my biggest things is developing patience,” said Tuten, whose Red Raiders visit top-seeded and undefeated Penns Grove on Saturday at noon for the South Jersey Group 1 championship. “I watch a lot of film. Each game, Coach puts up four or five games of the opposite team, and I just drill it after practice. I go home, take my shower, and I just study. I look at their movements, their plays, everything.”
Tuten has long been considered one of the most athletic backs in South Jersey. Now he wants to be one of the most complete backs.
His sophomore season was stunted when he was forced to miss six games with a broken thumb. So it’s easy to understand why Tuten appears to be trying to make up for lost time — and why he’s hesitant to even acknowledge any form of injury almost like a superstition.
“I’m good,” he said after Paulsboro’s 28-8 semifinal win over Gateway on Saturday, after rushing for 143 yards and two touchdowns.
He enters this week’s championship with 1,334 rushing yards on 170 carries for 8-2 Paulsboro. He has scored 30 touchdowns.
The 5-foot-10, 190-pound back has been everything Paulsboro needs him to be. And, he says, colleges are starting to notice.
The injury in his sophomore year set him back a bit in his ability to attract college suitors.
But Tuten said he has done some legwork on his own — reached out to teams, sent his highlights out. And now, more often, schools are coming to him.
While he’s not leaning toward any college just yet, he already has had conversations with programs including Temple, James Madison, and Towson.
“I just keep playing my game, keep playing my hardest and hopefully something comes up,” Tuten said. The recruiting process “is kind of hard, but some moments, when you get the texts and stuff like that, I enjoy it.”
Tuten’s performance this year has been particularly critical with Paulsboro down to its third-string quarterback in sophomore Tyree Thomas.
While Thomas’ fast development is a story in itself, it helps to have Tuten to lean on. Red Raiders coach Glenn Howard — who won the 300th game of his career on Saturday — said he appreciates Tuten’s effort and happy that the running back is starting to get the credit he deserves.
“My heart went out to him, and I felt very bad for him last year when he got hurt,” said Howard said. “He’s a phenomenal athlete, phenomenal player. I’m very happy and thrilled that he’s having the success that he’s had this year.”
Paulsboro will need every bit of Tuten’s effort on Saturday against a Penns Grove team that beat the Red Raiders, 42-26, on Sept. 26,
Penns Grove (11-0) is in the midst of its second consecutive undefeated season and hasn’t lost at all since losing to Paulsboro in 2017’s South Jersey Group 1 title game.
In that sense, at least, Tuten is hoping history repeats itself.
“It’s going to mean a lot to me and my teammates,” Tuten said. “We’re gonna have to come out, work hard in practice, play hard, come out hyped and amped for the game and see what happens.”