PAULDING — Toughness.
On the football field and in life, it's often described as taking on the challenges the game and world bring and shouldering them without complaint in order to get the job done.
That certainly describes Paulding senior running back Preston Ingol, who has shouldered the load in all three phases of the game and excelled at them all.
Though certainly not built like the prototypical strongman, Ingol's 5-6, 165-pound frame has helped shaped the identity of a power-run game in Panther country that churns out 233.3 yards per game on the ground. The Paulding senior is a major part of that rushing for 560 yards on just 82 carries (6.8 yards per carry) with seven touchdowns.
"As a first-year coach last year, you've got to have those good leaders to be a part of turning around a program," explained Paulding head coach Tyler Arend. "(Preston), along with a few of the other seniors, have kept things going and we've been able to establish an identity so far in the first four weeks of the season. He's a big part of that."
Ingol's 560 yards – second-best in the Northwest Conference – aren't the only thing he paces the team in. The Panther back has thrown for a touchdown and kicked a go-ahead field goal in week one against Wayne Trace.
Offense aside, Ingol's prowess extends to defense, where he is tied for the NWC lead in interceptions with three while recording 14 tackles on the year, and special teams as well. The senior's 37.3 punt yardage average is second in the league along with capable skills in the return game.
That is, when he gets the ball.
"Kick returning is my favorite thing to do. I've only gotten one kick return this year because they won't kick it to me," said Ingol with a laugh. "The coaches rely on me a lot to play every snap. I know I need to stay out there with my team and help them the best I can."
Added Arend: "He trains himself and we train him so that he won't have to come off the field. He's in great shape and he doesn't expect to come off the field. In all three facets of the game, he's all over the stat sheet. He just does a little bit of everything."
At 5-6, Ingol certainly isn't the typical star player that can overpower a defense. But he doesn't mind a bit.
"My whole life, I've been smaller than everybody so I've just learned to play harder and be faster than everybody, honestly," said Ingol with a smile.
"I think on the roster, he's listed at 5-6 but he plays likes he's six feet tall," added Arend. "What some people don't realize is how thick he is for his height. He's a big-time lifter, he can squat a truck. He's strong with his legs and he's tough to bring down."
The willingness to embrace the bruises and exhaustion that comes with not only going two ways, but three ways, is not something every player possesses. After playing basically every snap in last week's NWC opener against Bluffton, Ingol knows full well the sacrifices that come with the ability.
"I thank a lot to the coaches. They put us in the position we're at," noted Ingol. "They always say trust the system and dance with who brung you. They always tell us to stick with it and play through. I have to give thanks to my linemen, they bust their butts all the time and just keep their heads down."
Perhaps the most notable sign of Ingol's prowess came in week one's rivalry clash with Wayne Trace. Despite the weight of a six-game losing streak going in, Ingol put the Panthers on his back. The senior rushed 23 times for 190 yards and two TDs, caught two passes for 12 yards, recorded five tackles and two interceptions, punted twice for 86 yards and kicked a go-ahead 26-yard field goal with 2:19 left.
Though the now 1-3 Panthers fell in that contest 28-23, Arend knew where the spark for Paulding's season would come.
"That's just what we expect from him," said the Paulding coach. "He's got that toughness. Football's a tough game. Do I wish we had enough guys to two-platoon everywhere? Yeah, but this is a smaller community and there's not many schools in our area that have that luxury.
"He's got to be ready to play, every snap, and we're sure going to miss him once he graduates because that's practically three starters leaving when he leaves."