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Tuesday, Sep 26, 2017
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Eastman Finally Past The Speed Bumps

SEFFNER - Matt Eastman fills a premier position on a premier team, but he is far from a household name. At least he's not yet, anyway. The Armwood junior fullback seemed well on his way to gaining that status the last time the Hawks faced Plant, when he rushed for 89 yards and a score in that season-opening win. And Eastman is hoping a rematch with the Panthers in the Class 4A regional final Friday is just the thing he needs to spearhead his revival as a mainstay in Armwood's power running game. "It the season started off real good and then it hit a little bit of a speed bump," Eastman said. "Actually, I hit quite a few speed bumps. I think I'm starting to pick it up again." Those speed bumps were a broken finger and a banged-up shoulder, injuries that limited his production in the regular season by causing him to miss four games. But speed bumps weren't an unfamiliar occurrence for Eastman. In fact, prior to this season, that's all Eastman's football days at Armwood held.
Various injuries kept Eastman from even attempting to play football as a freshman, and when he decided on a gridiron return as a sophomore, things didn't quite go as planned. Eastman spent the entire season on the sideline as the junior varsity team's backup quarterback, an unexpected role for a person who thought he'd immediately step into a contributing role on a varsity squad with championship aspirations. "I didn't like Armwood very much last year," Eastman said with a smile. "I was just very impatient. I wanted to get on the field as soon as I could." Hawks offensive coordinator Chris Taylor sensed as much, and it's the reason he told Eastman a position switch might be in his best interests. So heading into spring practice last year, Eastman knew he needed to make a mark. And his opportunity came on the first day in pads. "First day of spring, we always have this thing where we go head up and hit each other, and no one would go up against one of our outside linebackers," Eastman said. "But I was like, 'I'll hit him, because I don't care.' And I drove him back and just hit him into the fence and took everybody by surprise and just went from there." Eastman made the switch to fullback, a position left unoccupied with the graduation of two-year starter Marquise Branton. If there was ever a chance to crack the starting lineup on the Hawks squad in 2007, this was it, Eastman thought. But Eastman knew it wouldn't be handed to him, so he went to work. And he worked. And he worked. "There wasn't a day I didn't just come home and pass out; not even taking a shower, just coming home and just going to sleep," Eastman said. "It definitely fueled me for summer." The hard work paid off. Eastman won the fullback spot in fall drills, proving to Taylor, Coach Sean Callahan and the rest of the Hawks' coaching staff he was the right fit for one of the most important positions in Armwood's offense. "The Armwood offense starts with fullback. When we're running triple option, he has to be a threat. And when we're running isolations with Eric Smith, we've got to have a guy that as the lead blocker makes the linebacker's head snap backwards," Taylor said. "Matt Eastman gives us that." He's been giving it a lot during the playoffs. In the Hawks' regional quarterfinal against Eagle Lake Lake Region, Eastman rushed for 75 yards and a score. That performance came on the heels of a 132-yard, one-touchdown performance in the regular-season finale against Middleton, Eastman's best showing of the season. Last week against Hillsborough, Eastman had another solid game with 50 rushing yards, and that's not counting "all the stuff you don't see until you look at it on tape," Taylor said. Eastman said he's finally back to 100 percent and playing his best football of the season, but he also knows there are better days ahead. And those are the days he's looking forward to, days without any more speed bumps. "I'm on my way. I don't think everyone has seen all I got yet," Eastman said. "I think I'm going to open some eyes."

Adam Adkins can be reached at (813) 657-4533 or aadkins@tampatrib.com.

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