Every day after getting out of class at Concord Clayton Valley Charter High, Joe Protheroe would strap himself to a sled and drag two 45-pound plates around the field.
Then he’d jog over to the roughest hill in town and sprint up and down until his legs gave out.
On Wednesday, the 6-foot-1, 210-pound running back plans to sign a letter of intent to join the Cal Poly football team, and the speed he gained from those offseason workouts between his junior and senior season are a big part of what helped him become the third leading rusher in the state and a Division I college prospect.
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Protheroe said he gave Mustangs coaches a verbal commitment on his official visit this past weekend after rushing for 3,014 yards and 34 touchdowns while leading the Eagles to their first CIF-North Coast Section Division II championship last fall.
“As a junior, I don’t think I got even half of the yards,” said Protheroe (pronounced Pro-throw). “As a junior, I was slower. I just really got motivation to work out harder in the summer because I wanted to do better for myself and my team.”
Protheroe ran for 906 yards and 16 touchdowns in a 6-5 season in 2011, but not a single Division I program was interested in him as a running back, though he said he was being looked at as a safety.
He got his 40-yard dash time down to 4.6 seconds, averaged 215.3 yards per game, broke the single-season school rushing record by 1,300 yards and had Clayton Valley (12-2) one game away from a berth in a state bowl game.
Protheroe said he also had an offer from Sacramento State, and Oregon and San Jose State recruited him as a walk-on.
He had a program-record 427 yards in a first-round playoff victory over Dublin, running 25 times and scoring five touchdowns in the 47-7 win.
The Eagles whipped rival and Diablo Valley League favorite Concord once in the regular season and again in the second round of the playoffs — by an average of 35 points.
Clayton Valley made section title games four other times, most recently in 2008, but lost each year.
“We were usually the underdog in our games,” Protheroe said, “because last year, we didn’t do too good, and the year before that, we didn’t either. … We just shocked everybody, and after that Concord High game, we weren’t underestimated anymore.”
In December, the program made the Northern Regional Division II championship game, a qualifier for the state bowls.
After rushing for 94 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries in that game, Protheroe sprained his ankle and missed the rest of a 27-24 loss to Oakdale, the second time an ankle injury ended his season in the playoffs after suffering a broken bone as a sophomore.
He said he is fully healthy again and will arrive in San Luis Obispo with a familiarity with Cal Poly's option offense thanks to first-year Clayton Valley coach Tim Murphy, whose offense also spawned former Cal and Fresno State running back Tracy Slocum at Clovis East.
The Eagles ran a shotgun variation on the double wing offense, which shares some of the same principles as Cal Poly’s offensive attack.
“There’s misdirection with the motion, a lot of pulls,” Protheroe said. “Helpfully it will be just exactly the same at Cal Poly because I love running upfield. I’m more of a vertical runner. I love running downhill. The fastest way to the end zone is in a straight line.”