Colby VanDecker of Oxford Hills cuts back across the field during a second half carry against Edward Little in October. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

PARIS — No one was happier to see snow this week than Oxford Hills running back Colby VanDecker.

An avid and accomplished skier, VanDecker would love to see some more snowfall at Hill Stadium during Saturday’s Class A semifinal when his fourth-seeded Vikings take on the unbeaten top seed, Thornton Academy. Oxford Hills will take any advantage it can get against the defending state champions.

“We’re out here practicing in the snow,” VanDecker said during Thursday’s practice on the Vikings’ white, icy practice field next to the school. “I don’t what they’re doing down there.”

VanDecker comes from a skiing family. His mother is an assistant coach for Oxford Hills’ alpine team. His older brother Ryland, also a standout running back with the Vikings three years ago, won the KVAC slalom championship in 2016, while Colby won the conference giant slalom championship last February.

He credits his background on the slopes with helping him on the gridiron, where he is very much a downhill runner. Although his 5-foot-9, 172-pound frame doesn’t seem imposing, VanDecker is extremely difficult for tacklers to bring down.

“Skiing is all in your hips. It’s your hips and your ankles,” he said. “It’s the same thing with running back. It’s all down below you and you’ve got to keep your center of mass level.”

After VanDecker punished Sanford’s defense for 207 yards and three touchdowns on 28 carries in the Vikings’ 42-0 semifinal win last Friday, Spartans coach Mike Fallon marveled at how easily he shed tackles.

“His forward lean and the way he runs is so difficult to deal with,” Fallon said. “He doesn’t quit. His legs never stop.”

VanDecker mixes in the courage of a downhill ski racer with that strength, balance and tenacity to regularly shake off the defenders trying to punish him on every carry.

Colby VanDecker of Oxford Hills is tripped up by Ethan Guillemette of Sanford during the first half of a Class A quarterfinal last Friday. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

“You just have to ignore everyone that’s trying to kill you and just keep going,” he said. “The fear part of it, you just can’t think about.”

“He’s fearless,” Oxford Hills coach Mark Soehren said. “I don’t think he has a real sense of self-preservation.”

“Contact sort of starts the run for him,” Soehren added. “When he makes contact, now he’s like, ‘OK, where do we go next?’ I mean, how many times have we watched him look like he’s in a pile and tackled and all of a sudden just bounces outside. He picks up his feet and and runs with his knees. When he gets into a pile, it’s not over.”

Before this season, VanDecker’s runs too often ended prematurely because his appetite for contact would overwhelm his running vision.

“I’ve always been the physical guy. I’ve always had that part. I love contact,” said VanDecker, who wouldn’t shy away from contact even after he broke a foot late in his sophomore season. “This year, I’ve finally figured out how to actually go into open grass and not just run into my own blockers. Then the physical part just comes after contact.”

“His brother was very similar,” Soehren said. “With Colby coming in, we kind of knew that (he craved contact), so we’ve really tried to work on him finding space, and he really has improved. It’s really allowed us, especially in the Sanford game, allowed us to change our blocking schemes so we don’t have to just create one hole for him. He can now read and make cuts and he really has done a nice job with that.”

Ethan Guillemette of Sanford grabs the face mask of Oxford Hills’ Colby VanDecker during the first half of last Friday’s Class A quarterfinal at Gouin Athletic Complex in Paris. Guillemette was called for a penalty on the play. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

VanDecker isn’t sure what finally prompted him to run to daylight other than hard work and repetition. Soehren said he told VanDecker in preseason that he could add at least 400 yards to his rushing totals this season if he kept scanning for open space, and the numbers — 1,402 yards and 13 touchdowns — seem to back that up.

VanDecker and the Vikings know they’ll have to create more open room for him to run against the Golden Trojans, who limited him to 47 yards on 14 carries en route to a 35-6 win when the teams met in Saco about a month ago.

“We’re definitely going to have to shine in the running game. That’s our big thing right now,” he said. “A team like that, sometimes they just need to know what it’s like to have another team to throw them around a little bit.”

“I think we all just want to hit them as hard as we can,” he said. “I think we have a good chance at beating them. We’ve been training all week and I think we’re ready.”

Oxford Hills’ Colby VanDecker gets by a Lewiston defender as he rambles for a first down at Gouin Athletic Complex in Paris in September. Brewster Burns photo


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