By Nate Thompson
His biggest motivator may be his father, Dustin Vanderputte, who was a former standout running back himself at Hart High School.
“He went on and played a couple years at Ferris,” said Vanderputte, a junior running back for Oakridge. “I obviously never saw him in person, but I’ve heard he was pretty fast. He could get to the edge. And he played back when the West Michigan Conference was really tough.”
Vanderputte said his dad is always there to give him tips on areas he could improve on, but in a constructive way. Even after his lackluster showing against Montague in a Week 2 loss, Vanderputte said he didn’t hear much criticism from his father.
“He really didn’t have to say anything,” Vanderputte said. “He just tried to encourage me and told me to use that game as motivation. We watch film together quite a bit, and he’ll show me things on what I could’ve done to make myself better. Just the little things.”
The little things have equaled big results for Vanderputte, who is in his second year as a starting running back after pairing up with senior All-Stater LeRoy Quinn last season.
He’s totaled more than 200 yards rushing in four games this season. Over eight games he’s racked up 1,295 yards and 18 touchdowns. He’s also caught six passes for 149 yards and two scores.
Fittingly, Vanderputte’s best game came against his dad’s alma mater, Hart, when he rushed for 243 yards and an amazing five touchdowns.
Last week, in the Eagles’ 41-20 playoff victory over Big Rapids, he piled up 227 yards and four touchdowns.
Defensively, Vanderputte ranks third on the team in tackles from his linebacker position, tallying 41, including four for losses and two sacks.
There isn’t much that he doesn’t do well.
Although Oakridge (6-2) closed its regular season with a hard-fought 32-18 loss to Whitehall, the Eagles have displayed a much more consistent offensive attack in recent weeks, compared to their early-season struggles.
In the opening two games of the playoffs, Oakridge outscored Chippewa Hills and Big Rapids by a combined 81-26. The Eagles will look to continue rolling on Friday at home against Tri-County, a Cinderella playoff team that enters the Division 5 district title game with a 4-4 record.
“I think one key thing that happened was we got Luke Martin back,” said Vanderputte. “He’s a linebacker and left tackle. He was hurt in Week 1 and missed the Montague game. Getting him back has really helped us out.”
Vanderputte said he’s driven to lead the Eagles all the way to the state finals this year, to prove that the team can keep winning without Quinn, who is the program’s all-time leading rusher and is currently on the roster at Ferris State University.
It seems that Quinn is Vanderputte’s other big motivator, even though he graduated last spring.
He said he valued the chance to learn from someone as talented as Quinn last season, but said it was somewhat daunting to step into his huge shoes as the Eagles’ featured back this season.
“I think a lot people thought that, you know, we lost this great, great player, so Oakridge isn’t going to be as good as they were,” Vanderputte said. “I know you can’t really replace a player like LeRoy, but it motivates us to prove that we can be just as good as a team. We want to advance as far as we can in the playoffs.”
Even during the pandemic, which limited the number of offseason workouts and scrimmages during the spring and summer, Vanderputte said he still tried to mimic Quinn’s legendary work ethic.
He put on about 10 pounds of muscle by getting in the weight room at least four days a week. He’s currently at 5-foot-11 and weighs around 175.
“I knew I wanted to get bigger and stronger, and I think that extra muscle has helped me take those hits running the ball and delivering some of my own,” Vanderputte said.
His teammates and coaches have definitely noticed Vanderputte take his game to a new level this season.
Head coach Cary Harger raved about his second-half showing against Ravenna on Oct. 17, when he rushed for 151 of his 203 yards to spark the Eagles to a 34-13 win.
“Corey ended up finding his groove,” Harger said with a smile.
“Corey’s a guy who just hates to lose,” added Eagles’ running back/receiver Jacob Danicek. “He’s a real funny guy off the field, but if he’s losing at anything, he’s not real happy. But he’s a phenomenal running back. We couldn’t envision what it would be like losing LeRoy, but Corey is really stepping up.”