Twenty eight.

That’s the number East Peoria running back Joey Inman wore as a freshman to get attention of then junior running back Michael Thompson.

Thompson took notice.

From there, a bond between the two running backs was built. Eventually, Inman switched to 43 for his final three seasons. Choosing 43 was an easy choice, his favorite player, former Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu wore the same number.

Inman credits the tutelage of Thompson for helping him get a scholarship to play football at Division III Rockford University. Inman is joining East Peoria teammate Carl Kaufman at Rockford.

Inman and Kaufman have developed a bond over the last six seasons as teammates and spend their free time together on the weekends.

“I think it’s really cool to go to college with someone I know and played with my whole life,” Inman said.

Thompson not only taught Inman, a 5-foot-9 running back and linebacker, how to play the game, but also how to represent the school.

“I think just watching him made me want to be a better player,” Inman said of Thompson. “Watching him made me want to be a better football player and I tried a lot harder because of him.”

Inman learned how to be a leader during his senior season, the first under head coach Kevin Vedell. It didn’t take long for Vedell to get his players to buy into the program.

After the players bought in, Inman emerged as a leader of the group. His toughness was on display each day. Vedell said Inman took an “absolute beating” at fullback this season, causing him to not play defense as often.

“(Inman) probably didn’t get to play as much defense as he would of liked because of it, but he was outstanding on both sides of the ball nonetheless. Probably the funniest kid I have ever coached, and I look forward to seeing what he can do at Rockford,” Vedell said.

Despite the hard-nosed season, Inman finished with 24 tackles, five for a loss with three sacks, four forced fumbles and one fumble recovery on defense.

On offense, he rushed for 392 yards and found the end zone four times for the Raiders.

His off the field intensity matched his on the field intensity.

“I think me and a couple of the other senior guys had a big impact on the freshmen, the sophomores and juniors because we always tried to stay involved with them,” Inman said.

Inman is excited for the future of his now alma mater. He thinks the East Peoria will only improve under Vedell, and the Raiders should be on opposing team’s radar moving forward with the underclassmen and Vedell.

He is also optimistic about a fresh start at Rockford. Inman said the fresh start is a welcomed change.

After helping build the Raider program back up, he is excited to do the same for a Rockford team that has gone 6-24 over the last three seasons, but has increased its win total each year.

“I think it’s definitely going to help coming from a similar situation,” Inman said. “I definitely have experience coming from an up-and-coming program. I think I can carry that with me and be pretty successful in college hopefully.”

He did not intend to continue his football career prior to his senior season, but playing with his friends and under Vedell helped him decide to continue his career.