By Max Goodwin
The Avila football team was ready to get back on the field this season after sharing the first conference title in school history. Senior running back Malik Nesbitt was particularly eager.
In the last game of last season, Nesbitt scored five touchdowns and won Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference player of the week. This season he picked up exactly where he left off, scoring five touchdowns and winning KCAC player of the week after Avila’s first game of the season, a win over Tabor College, 65-24, on September 3rd.
The Eagles then ran over Ottawa, 38-14. Nesbitt ran for 185 yards and two touchdowns. It was Avila’s 10th straight win going back to last season.
Nesbitt was given 32 carries against Ottawa but maintained 5.8 yards per carry. Nesbitt has had at least five yards per carry each of his three seasons and appears on his way to do that once again.
Avila now leads the NAIA with 10 rushing touchdowns, is second in points per game, and eighth in rushing yards per game. It has been an offensive explosion, carried in large part by Nesbitt.
In his freshman season, Nesbitt carried the ball just six times and contributed mostly as a special teams player. In his sophomore season, he scored five touchdowns. Last season, his junior year, he was given 206 carries and went for 1,156 rushing yards and 19 total touchdowns. He’s earned this opportunity through patience and preparation.
“Just simply learning the offense and what we’re going to ask of him, he’s the type of guy who’s not really making mistakes, he’s executing,” head coach Marc Benavidez said. “When you can do that, we’ll do whatever we can as coaches to put you in a good position to be successful. He’s lived by that. On top of that, he’s from Georgia but will stay here throughout the summer and work out and condition to do whatever he can to be ready to go week one, he’s done that for us.”
Nesbitt said he feels he has increased endurance this season from the conditioning work he did during the offseason. Through two games Nesbitt has 55 carries for 329 yards and seven touchdowns.
As the youngest of six brothers, Nesbitt has appreciated the chance to guide younger running backs and teammates through the preparation that earned him this opportunity. He takes pride in knowing the offense, not only where he’s supposed to be on each play but also where teammates are supposed to be.
“You’ve just got to prepare yourself for the moment. When your time actually comes, be prepared for it,” Nesbitt said. “For the younger guys, I just try to tell them you’ve got to soak up all information, you’re never too old to learn.”
His breakout came last season, but Nesbitt looks like he’s taken it to a new level in the first two games of this season. He’s on pace after just two games to break all of his achievements last season.
“It’s well deserved,” Benavidez said of Nesbitt’s conference player of the week award. “Having five touchdowns is not easy at all. Malik is very fortunate too though his offensive line made it easy for him at times. But, the guy, he’s worked his butt off the last four years here.”
The offensive line and defensive line are crucial to Avila’s success, Benavidez said. The offensive line has been a force in making way for Nesbitt to put up the stats that he has. The Eagles return four of the five starters from last season on the offensive line and have a freshman with potential at left tackle.
Nesbitt has been the one putting up eye-catching stats, but it’s a team effort in running the ball the way Avila has. Benavidez said Nesbitt has been an example for coaches of what younger players do if they stay patient early and are prepared when the opportunity arrives.
Now that his opportunity is here, Nesbitt is making the most of his senior year. He doesn’t mind the conference player of the week award, but his focus, like his teammates, is on another conference championship and this year making the NAIA playoffs.