After feeling his talents weren’t being utilized at Shepherd University (W.Va.), Nathan Hoyte transferred to ASU, where he has led the Rams in rushing the last two seasons. (Reginald Christian/Albany State University)
ALBANY — Nathan Hoyte knows this is it.
His last season. His last few carries. The final goodbye to the game he grew to love and poured his life into.
Albany State’s senior running back knows there is no tomorrow.
“Nothing lasts forever, and I have always tried to keep myself in the moment,” Hoyte said this week at practice. “The moment is only going to be there for that moment. It doesn’t last.”
Hoyte is trying to turn these final few moments on a football field into memories that could last a lifetime. It’s what he thinks about when he slips on his Golden Rams uniform, what pushes him through tacklers and around blockers.
“I want to go out on a good note,” Hoyte said. “This is going to be my last year playing football, and I want to have a good year. I want to leave it on the field. I started playing when I was 5 and started playing organized football when I was 7 or 8.”
It’s been his life for the last two decades.
“After this, I am going to be…” Hoyte said after Thursday’s practice before trailing off. “I’ll be working a job with my (physical education) degree or without my degree. I just want to go out on a good note.”
So far, so good for the native of Waldorf, Md., who emerged as a top running back in high school at McDonough High and started his college career at Shepherd University (W. V.a) before transferring to ASU for his junior season.
He has turned heads at every stop, scoring dozens of touchdowns and gaining thousands of yards.
But he might just be saving the best for last.
Through seven games this season, the 5-foot-10, 195-pound running back has a team-high 655 rushing yards and seven touchdowns, giving a sluggish offense just enough firepower to propel the Rams (4-3) to three wins in a row.
“He has been the difference,” coach Mike White said. “He has been really the only consistent thing we have had offensively. He is making nothing into something with that inconsistent blocking we have.”
If you take away blowout losses to Wingate and Miles when the Rams had to abandon the running game, Hoyte is averaging 120 yards per game. He has three 100-plus-yard games, including the season opener against North Greenville when he ran for a career-high 194 yards and two TDs.
And he is as good a leader as he is a runner.
“He is a guy who is going to do what you ask him to do,” White said. “He is going to speak to his teammates if they step out of line. He is a guy who will be everywhere he is supposed to be. You never have to worry about him. If he’s not where he is supposed to be, then something is wrong.”
That’s why White was so confused Tuesday when his star running back was nowhere to be found at practice.
“You were wondering where he was,” White said. “That just doesn’t happen, because he is just that consistent. You know something is wrong if he’s not there. That’s how that kid is.”
Hoyte was stranded in his dorm after maintenance changed the lock on his door and locked him out of his room while he was taking a shower. He scrambled to get the door unlocked, dashed across campus and eventually made it to practice, albeit a few minutes late. It takes a lot to keep Hoyte away from a football field.
It might take more to keep him out of the end zone.
No one on ASU’s roster has more touchdowns the last two seasons. As a junior, Hoyte led the team in rushing with 774 yards and seven touchdowns — a pair of statistics he is on pace to surpass this season.
It all started for Hoyte back in Maryland, where he played for a powerhouse McDonough team and developed into one of the top runners in the state. He finished his senior year with more than 1,200 yards and 13 touchdowns and had Division I colleges like University of Albany (N.Y.) and Monmouth University ready to offer him scholarships.
“But my grades weren’t the best, so that held me back,” Hoyte said Thursday. “I needed to get a decently high test score, and I was unable to get it.”
The talented back settled for Shepherd University (W.Va.), one of the top running programs in Division II, but didn’t play until his third year at the school because of a redshirt season and an academically-ineligible season.
When he finally got on the field, there was another problem he had to overcome. He rushed for 18 touchdowns and 800 yards his sophomore season, but he felt he could have done even more to help his team.
“The carries weren’t distributed evenly, and I felt like I could have a better opportunity to display my talent somewhere else,” Hoyte said, referring to the issue of fellow running back Thomas Addison receiving more carries. “Yeah, it was frustrating. The coaches were saying I was the most complete back.
“I could block and run, but I wasn’t getting the opportunities. I felt like college is a business. With it being a business, I wanted to do what was best for my interest. If I am going to end my career, I wanted to end it on my terms. So I decided to transfer and do it how I wanted to.”
That’s when Albany State entered the picture.
Hoyte became aware of ASU when the Rams played in the NCAA Division II quarterfinals in 2010 against Delta State, which beat ASU and then went on to defeat Shepherd in the semifinals.
“I saw that (ASU) was winning that year,” Hoyte said. “They were a good team, and when I contacted the coaches they told me that they needed a running back.”
It was a perfect fit.
“He makes the extra effort,” White said. “When there is only three or four yards to get, Nate is going to get those three or four extra yards. He’s not going to take a loss.”
His teammates have noticed his dedication, too.
“He is a great leader,” offensive lineman Victor Moli said. “He leads by words and actions. Everything he says he does. He is great guy with a positive attitude. He is somebody who I feel blessed to be around.”
Hoyte wants to make this season count, and he started his farewell tour with a bang in this year’s season opener, breaking away for a 47-yard TD run less than seven minutes into the game.
Two quarters later, he found the end zone again on a 34-yard run, breaking tackles and finding holes in the defense — and officially setting the stage for his senior season.
“Nate made those plays work. He may have gotten one, maybe two blocks there,” White said. “If I had to use a word to describe him, I would say he just has great vision.”
Hoyte’s vision doesn’t stop at the goal line.
He talked about a brighter future after practice Thursday, one that included a grand finale to his football field.
“If we accomplish what we want to do and win it all, then I will say (my final game) would be bittersweet,” Hoyte said. “Bittersweet because you go out on top, but you are also going out.
“I don’t think there are going to be any tears, but you never know.”