Six-foot-three, 310-pound offensive lineman Theodore Tootle has helped new quarterback Hosea McClam find holes.
Hosea McClam always viewed himself as a running back.
He lined up at the position as a junior at Lincoln a year ago. His older brother, Joshua, was a Railsplitters tailback, rushing for 700 yards and 12 touchdowns during the 2011 season. The McClams seem to fit the description of a running back family, which is why Hosea was a bit hesitant at first when his head coach, Ed McGettigan, asked him to make the switch to quarterback in 2014.
So far, so good.
In Thursday’s 20–7 victory at Dobbins — Lincoln’s first of the young season — McClam gave Lincoln a 6–0 lead when he hit senior receiver Aaron Johnson for a pretty 33-yard touchdown connection, culminating a 10-play drive that began on the Railsplitter 15. Later, with Dobbins holding a 7–6 lead, McClam found the end zone on a 3-yard run to put his team back on top, 12–7.
Then, in the contest’s ultimate coup de grâce, McClam led Lincoln on an 18-play, 70-yard drive that ate up most of the third quarter clock and ended with sophomore Barry White crooning his way to a 5-yard touchdown run. On that drive, McClam picked up four critical first downs — two with his arm, two with his legs — and delivered the knockout punch to a team Lincoln has now beaten twice in a row.
“That drive in the third quarter,” said McGettigan, now in his fifth season, “was one of the best drives we’ve had since I’ve been the coach here. Hosea did a great job passing the ball when he had space, and he ran the ball tough.”
So, what gives?
“The quarterback position, that wasn’t really my thing,” McClam said. “But the team needed it, and I want to perform for them. In two games, I’ve been able to do that. I was thinking, ‘What good does it do us if I’m selfish and want to just run the ball every single play?’ I had to learn some different things about the position, but it’s worked out for the team, so it’s all good.”
Thus far, it has been. McClam and the Railsplitters dropped a 14–12 overtime heartbreaker at home to Southern in week one in a game where he rushed 28 times for 98 yards and a score while passing for 52 yards and an aerial touchdown. He made sure that Lincoln bounced back from the deflating loss six days later, rushing 24 times for 62 yards and a TD, while accurately completing 7 of his 12 passes for 100 yards and the touchdown to Johnson.
When Lincoln needed a big play or first down, McClam delivered. He led, and his teammates followed suit with a signature team victory. It was the type of effort the program has lacked in the past, and one it hopes propels the Railsplitters forward heading into Friday’s home Independence Division opener against an extremely talented King team.
“It builds our confidence going forward,” McClam said. “This has to be something we build on, and I think this game showed we have the chemistry to move the ball and win games. I have faith in my team.”
One of the guys McClam has a ton of faith in is senior offensive lineman Theodore Tootle, who, at 6-foot-3 and 310 pounds, can put opposing defensive linemen on their backs and give the quarterback time to move the ball down the field.
“Tootles, that’s my guy,” McClam affectionately said of his soft-spoken protector. “Once you get him riled up, he’s going to block for you and not let anyone touch you. That’s what I love about him.”
Tootle, who blocked for McClam at the running back position a year ago, is one of many left impressed by McClam’s seamless transition to quarterback.
“I’ve been seeing this boy make tacklers fall for a couple years now,” said Tootle, also one of Lincoln’s top defensive linemen who made life miserable for the Dobbins offense all day. “I’ve seen him make some tremendous touchdown runs. We know how good his footwork is, but now he’s showing you what he can do with his arm.”
McGettigan credited McClam’s tireless work ethic over the summer to the results being seen on the field through two weeks of the season.
“His brother was a great running back for us, and at the outset I think Hosea would have liked to be in that role,” McGettigan said. “But he knows he’s still going to handle and run with the ball; on top of that, he’s taken on the challenge of improving his pass reads. What’s great is that it puts the ball in the hands of one of our best playmakers on every play.
“He worked hard in the spring and over the summer in the weight room. We met a few times a week, and he was always there putting work in trying to get more comfortable at the position. At first, there were some growing pains, but he’s getting more acclimated every week.”
In a division that features the likes of Washington, Northeast, King and Franklin, not all that much is expected of the Railsplitters, who graduated a lot of talent from last season into this one.
That’s just fine to the players.
“People in school, they keep talking saying we’re not going to win any games and are going to get blown out,” Tootle said. “But if we have confidence in each other and keep working hard, that’s all we need.”
“We’re not worried about what our friends or people in school might be saying about us,” McClam added. “We have chemistry, and we’ve all been friends who’ve played with each other for a while. I believe in these guys.”
The goal for this team remains the same as it’s always been: get to the playoffs and see what happens. In the newly aligned Public League divisions, Lincoln knows it will have to finish in the top four to get there, a task that will surely be easier said than done.
Despite that fact, the team believes it can surprise some people, even if others don’t.
“This is just the beginning,” said junior receiver/cornerback Isaiah Thomas. “We’re going to show everyone that they’re wrong about us. We’re going to be in the playoffs. I believe that.”
With McClam running the show and playing with confidence, why not?
“We stayed strong coming back from a tough loss,” McClam said. “That’s what winning teams do.” ••
Hosea McClam was set to be the team’s featured running back before being asked to make the switch to QB. KEVIN COOK / FOR THE TIMES