A 5-foot-5, 185-pound body isn’t meant to absorb 40 poundings in a single game, but Friends junior running back Thomas Hankerson has a different type of toughness about him.
That is why he was able to handle a workload of 40 carries, turning them into 179 rushing yards and three touchdowns to lead the Falcons to a 34-3 shellacking of McPherson on Saturday afternoon at Adair-Austin Stadium.
Friends improved to 5-1 on the season and remained atop the KCAC standings with a 4-0 conference record.
“I’m fearless,” Hankerson said. “Nothing bothers me. This game of football, this is what I love to do so I’m going to go out there and do that every time.”
Whenever Friends needed something positive on offense, it could rely on Hankerson coming out of the backfield and providing some kind of spark.
Friends coach Monty Lewis said Hankerson has “that burning desire” every time he touches the ball, which separates him from players that have been gifted with bigger bodies.
“He’s a Division-I player in a NAIA body, and I don’t mean any offense there,” Lewis said. “There’s no question he’s got Division-I ability. Thank goodness he’s at Friends University.”
In a game where neither team had much success when it put the ball in the air — each team threw three interceptions — Hankerson’s reliability in the backfield was crucial for the Falcons.
With McPherson unable to mount an effective offensive attack for the duration of the game, Friends took control and took a 21-0 lead after Hankerson’s second touchdown in the second quarter.
That was more than enough against McPherson, which lost 13 yards on 23 total carries and turned the ball over four times.
“Containing him is a constant job,” McPherson coach Pete Sterbick said said of Hankerson. “He’s a guy that they’re going to keep giving it to. I think we held him in check enough, but when you’re not moving the ball and keep turning the ball over then it makes your defense look worse than they probably are.”
When Lewis wanted to deliver the demoralizing blow, he gave Hankerson the ball on nine of 10 plays, including six straight, that resulted in a 6-yard touchdown plunge and a 27-3 lead in the third quarter.
Seeing the tiniest player on the field bounce up from the turf and keep propelling his body into defenders has been an inspiration for the Falcons.
“I think that’s why our offensive line continues to improve,” Lewis said. “They’re inspired to block for him because of his attitude and the way he acts.”
FU—T. Allen 12 pass from Hansen (Nixon kick)
FU—Hankerson 15 run (Nixon kick)
FU—Hankerson 1 run (Nixon kick)
MC—Phillips 40 field goal
FU—Hankerson 6 run (Bauer run failed)
FU—Rogers 31 run (Nixon kick)
Rushing—McPherson, Hardridge 5-24, Dixon 1-9, Thibodeaux 6-6, Franklin 3-2, Pomele 2-(-3), Koenigs 1-(-6), Hoffman 5-(-45); Friends, Hankerson 40-179, Rogers 5-58, Brandon 4-31, Bauer 5-18, Hansen 7-8, Scott 2-5.
Passing—McPherson, Hoffman 11-26-3-95, Koenigs 1-2-0-38; Friends, Hansen 12-24-3-205.
Receiving—McPherson, Robinson 2-90, Hardridge 3-41, Rotering 2-3, Thibodeaux 1-3, Pomele 1-(-4); Friends, C. Allen 5-142, Hyde 2-32, T. Allen 2-25, Taylor 2-4, Melugin 1-2.