The Bulldogs lined up at the 16-yard line and like many times before, quarterback Jake Vargas knew exactly where he was going.
Nehemiah McCaskill went into motion from the right to the left side of the line just before the ball was snapped, forcing two Elk City defenders to cover him.
But when Vargas received the ball, he put it into the capable arms of the Noah Villarreal, the Bulldogs’ ultra-reliable bruising fullback.
Villarreal split the line and turned on the jets, going untouched for the last 10 yards of his 16-yard touchdown run.
It has become a habit for the Bulldogs and one that is certainly hard to kick. Villarreal has turned into Mr. Reliable, always up for another carry. Sometimes it is two, but more often than not he is rumbling his way through the line for a pickup of six or eight or in this case, 16.
But where did Villarreal come from and what is his story?
Little is known about the fullback. Villarreal arrived in Altus prior to the start of last season, but due to the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Associations’ eligibility rules, he could not play during the Bulldogs’ magical state championship season.
Instead, he played on the scout team and excelled.
“I loved to run the ball on the scout team,” Villarreal said. “I would always give good looks and kinda played myself into the position. One of my favorite memories from last year was knowing how great our defense was and I was still running the ball well against them.”
And it has stuck. Now, Villarreal is running over defenders and gaining huge chunks of yardage for the Bulldogs. Through three games, he has 559 yards on 76 carries and four rushing touchdowns to his name. He is averaging 7.3 yards per carry and in two of three games eclipsed the 200-yard mark.
Not included in the numbers is how much of a force Villarreal is on the football field. He does not just simply run, a large portion of his yards through this season have come after contact. He is as hard to bring down as he is quick and many times he drags opposing players behind him or carries them with him to the first-down marker.
The scary part is, he does not look like he will be slowing down anytime soon.
Ironically, Villarreal is actually an Altus native.
Born at the hospital on Altus Air Force Base, he and his mother Lucy moved to Port Bolivar, Texas — a peninsula located in Galveston County — in 2003 when he was just four years old.
Villarreal has been playing football since he was old enough to participate in the local peewee league, but really began to stand out from the crowd when he was seven years old as a quarterback for the Galveston Riptides, a team he played for until he was in the sixth grade.
That was when Villarreal became eligible to play for the High Island Cardinals in High Island, Texas. But the Cardinals played six-man football, a very different brand of the sport.
Under those rules, the field is 80 yards long, 40 yards wide and a team must travel 15 yards instead of the traditional 10 for a first down, perhaps explaining Villarreal’s penchant for gaining more than seven yards per carry.
In Texas, he was named first team All-District fullback, second team All-District nose guard and was invited to play for the 2015 Texas State team in Australia.
Villarreal moved to Altus with the dream of playing football and graduating from the same school as his maternal family. It just so happens that school has a really good football team.
But in addition to that, living in Altus was something Villarreal wanted to do.
“All my family is here and I’ve been staying here every summer with my Aunt Nora (Villarreal) since I was about eight,” Villarreal said. “I just really love the feel of Altus, which may sound weird coming from a teenager that has lived here.”
Now Villarreal has found his place in the Bulldogs offense amid cheers from the fans. He gives it his all with every carry and he does not shy away from a hit.
“Noah is a great kid with a big heart. Noah comes to work every day. He is a durable back with good vision,” Head Coach Todd Vargas said. “Noah deserves all the success he has received because of all the hard work he has put in. Noah is a true team player and understands his role in the offense and on the team.”
Even with his recent celebrity status in Altus, he remains humble — that being a part of this team and playing in Altus feels like a dream.
His mother still lives in Port Bolivar, but she watches and cheers her son on from afar with his number one fan, his little brother Bryce Kahla.
“Football is his calling. He eats, breathes, and sleeps football,” said his mother, Lucy Villarreal. “He would often play in the pasture by our house with his little brother, his cousins, and the neighbor kids. Rain or shine, he was playing football. He isn’t one of the tallest or bigger players, but that has never stopped him. He goes into ‘beast mode’ once he gets onto the field.”
“My son is an outstanding young man. He has the biggest and kindest heart anyone could have and is one of the most respectful young men anyone could ever meet,” she said. “He has dreams of playing college ball someday soon and he wants to get a degree in sports medicine. I will do all in my power to make his dream come true. I am beyond proud of all of his accomplishments and extremely proud to be his mother. I always tell him to take the bad and turn it into good if at all possible. I see the way he has overcome all adversity in his life so far. He has done a fine job and I could not be more proud.”
Reach Ryan Lewis at 580-482-1221, ext. 2076.