Prolific Washington running back inspired by memory of his late grandfather
Once Thomas Borges crosses the goal line, he takes a moment of reflection.
This gesture following each touchdown is a sign of honor for the Washington senior’s late grandfather, Alex Rinehart. Rinehart died Sept. 18, leaving behind a grandson who adored him.
A day after his grandfather's funeral, Borges caught a two-point conversion catch to help complete a 22-21 comeback victory over Pekin. Many of his family members were in attendance.
“It’s special being able to get in the end zone,” he said, “and then just thinking about him.”
In recent years, the pair had grown closer and closer as Borges watched his brother and sister during the days of remote learning. Rinehart and his wife, Nancy, would come over to babysit their younger grandchildren, so Borges could get some of his schoolwork finished.
Little moments like that are what he will remember the most about his grandpa.
“We would be hanging out all the time, laughing and joking,” said Borges, who wears his eye black as crosses and has written "RIP G PA" on his cleats. “All that good stuff.”
Rinehart would have been very proud of his grandson’s Class 6A second-round performance in a 27-13 win over Champaign Centennial. The 5-foot-9, 165-pound back rushed 20 times for 241 yards and three touchdowns to help the ninth-ranked Panthers (9-2) into a 1:30 p.m. Saturday quarterfinal meeting with No. 6 Crete-Monee (8-3) at Babcook Field.
Washington rides a seven-game win streak into the program’s ninth quarterfinal appearance under coach Darrell Crouch.
“Good practices,” Borges said of what he attributes to Washington’s success. “Without good practices, good scout teams and good special teams practices we can't really (replicate) everything in games, so I think that's a big factor.”
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Spring football was an eye-opening experience for Borges. He says it ended up being a jumpstart for him heading into the summer’s offseason conditioning and this fall’s practices.
Plus, it made him realize what he needed to do to be ready for the grind of a full season.
“I definitely thought (the spring season) helped a lot,” he said. “It made me realize I probably should put on more weight.”
Borges, who hovers between 1,500 and 1,600 rushing yards, achieved his goal of putting on between 15-20 pounds prior to his final prep season. This added weight has helped him become more comfortable in his new starting role. That was very evident in the second-round win where he averaged just over 12 yards a carry.
And like any good running back, Borges gives credit to the offensive line — tackle Case Foster, guard Seth Boswell, center Jordan Martin, guard Henry Worrick and tackle Jay Wireman — as well as his fullback Cade Biedscheid.
“From Week 1 to now, the line has made incredible improvement,” Borges said. “Cade, in front of me, has done wonders. Holes are huge. Holes are there.”
Crouch says his starting running back has really improved his all-around game. Borges has gone from a smaller back as a freshman to an every down back along with being a much-improved receiver out of the backfield.
One example, according to his coach, was long run against Centennial, coming off a cut and a Biedscheid block.
“His vision is continuing to get better over the past two years of seeing holes, seeing cutback lanes,” Crouch said.
Without having to spend energy as a defensive player, Borges is featured at the scout team tailback. He’s played the role as many of the area’s best running backs.
Sometimes Crouch has to temper the usage of his often overenthusiastic all-Mid-Illini Conference player.
“He's always on the field in practice,” he said. “You're trying to kick them out because you don't want them to get dinged or hurt with so many carries in a practice."
A victory Saturday would send Washington back to the semifinals for the first time since a 2017 Class 5A appearance. It would also mark a third final four berth since 2013.
So, what’s the ceiling for this team?
“I think we can go to the (state) championship,” Borges said after a momentary pause.
Adam Duvall is a Journal Star sports reporter. Email him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @AdamDuvall.