by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
When Moses Saygbe was mentioned by new Elk football coach Steve Hamilton, during pre-season, as a good bet to lead the conference in rushing, the Star News reaction was, “Who?”
Saygbe was an unknown quantity, at least outside the halls of ERHS, where he’s popular enough to be one of this year’s homecoming king candidates. He had mostly outside linebacker since starting football relatively late, in ninth grade.
But Hamilton, intent upon building the relentless ground game that was his hallmark in Michigan and Georgia, sized up Saygbe and pegged him as a fullback.
The coach’s hunch was right. In four games, all victories, the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Saygbe has rushed for 589 yards in 61 carries, a 9.7 average, scoring seven touchdowns. His yardage ranks eighth in the state in all classes, according to Minnesota Sports Online.
Saygbe was one of the homecoming heroes in the 42-34 win over Monticello last week as he piled up 193 yards on just 15 carries, with an 80-yard TD sprint in the first quarter and a 16-yarder in the fourth quarter, one play after making a diving catch for a 13-yard gain on fourth-and-seven.
Busting up the middle on traps and dives, he also rolled up 84 yards against Big Lake, 109 against Cambridge-Isanti, 203 against Moorhead, and his TD gallops include 58, 32 and 40 yard runs, plus another 48-yard gain.
“You always look for that home run hitter,” said Hamilton. “Moses is a threat to take it to the house at any time.”
Up until ninth grade, Saygbe played soccer, but there was a problem.
“I liked to hit, and I was getting too many penalties,” grinned Saygbe. “Coach Gus told me I should go out for football, so I did.”
That would be Ben Gustafson, one of the junior high coaches, who had Saygbe in class.
That first year, the freshmen coaches tried him briefly at running back. “But I knew nothing about football,” says Saygbe “They put me on defense.”
The next year, he stayed at OLB on the sophomore team. On varsity last year, when the Elks were gutted by suspensions before the first game, coaches stuck him in the backfield but he sprained his ankle the first game. When he returned it still hampered him so he reverted to OLB the rest of that gruesome 0-9 season.
Fortunately, he had one season left to bloom as a premier high school ballcarrier.
‘You watch him run, and in the weight room, and he definitely looks the part,” said Hamilton. “You could see the potential. From this summer on, he put in a lot of work and has come a long way …. He’s one of the nicest kids you could work with, too.”
Success carrying a football depends on natural gifts — speed, strength, balance, instinct, vision — to a larger degree than most, if not all, positions in sports, but there’s still plenty to learn. Saygbe couldn’t handle it when he was a rookie in ninth grade. He made sure he could as a senior.
Asked what aspects he had to absorb, Saygbe listed: “Memorizing plays, running to full speed, keeping on your feet, not getting caught in the (falling bodies) on the line, and keeping the ball wrapped. We always use two hands, to sell the ‘fake.’ “
Breaking free is the sweet part, said Saygbe, who’s been clocked at about 4.5 in the 40.
“Then you unwrap the ball,” he said, meaning carry with one arm, “and go fast as you can.”
It’s not all Saygbe, of course. The Elks are averaging 336 yards rushing per game with Dylan Chambers, Corey Collins and Austin Larson also moving the chains behind a hard-working line. That’s how the Elks transformed into a high-scoring, entertaining team this fall after several tough seasons.
“We’ve been working really hard,” he said. “We decided we would not stand for another losing season.”
THE SAYGBE SCORECARD
Personal file — Age: 17 … Family: parents Moses Saygbe II and Louise Cheaye; sister Jasmine, 7 …. Sports: football, lacrosse …. Academics: A’s and B’s … Other activities: Link last year, Fellowship of Christian Athletes … College plans: Univ. of North Dakota, aviation
Favorite stuff — Classes: math, media productions … TV show: “Sports Center” … Movie: “Transformers III” …. Food: Benihana’s Chinese fare … Drink: lemonade … Reading: Sports Illustrated … Team: Patriots … Athlete: Reggie Bush … Kickback: movies, fishing … Place he’d like to visit: Argentina, for the soccer