There was an abundance of talent at the running back position last season on the Southern Conference gridiron; I even dubbed the 2012 season “The Year of the Running Back in The Southern Conference” when I ranked the league’s top backs last season. But all three top rushers from a year ago have graduated.
The biggest loss from that class is obviously Wofford’s Eric Breitenstein, who finished as the SoCon’s second all-time leading rusher with 5,730 yards. Breitenstein is the newest member of the Carolina Panthers, signing as a free agent late Saturday afternoon following last month’s NFL Draft.
All Breitenstein has done the past two seasons is be the best offensive player in the Southern Conference, and one of the top running backs in all of college football. His 321-yard rushing performance against Elon was a SoCon regular season record.
Breitenstein’s graduation leaves an incredibly large void for the Terriers. However, it also leaves a tremendous opportunity for a guy like Donovan Johnson, who played in the shadow of Breitenstein the past few seasons. It will be Johnson shouldering most of the load in the backfield this fall.
Also graduating from that solid crop of running backs is Furman’s Jerodis Williams, who posted a second-straight 1,000-yard season with 1,170 and 3,097 for his career — fifth most in program history.
Williams became the first Furman running back to record back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons since Louis Ivory in the 2000 and 2001 seasons. His initial of those campaigns was the first by the Furman program since Hindley Brigham went for 1,042 yards in 2003. Williams signed as a free agent with the Minnesota Vikings on Saturday afternoon.
That leaves much of the responsibility to talented back Hank McCloud. He enters the 2013 season having gained 662 yards and scored seven touchdowns in two seasons as the secondary option for the Paladins over the past couple of seasons. It will now be McCloud’s show in the Paladin backfield this fall.
Appalachian State’s Steven Miller was second among the league’s running backs a year ago, ranking behind only Breitenstein. Miller was third overall in rushing yards among all SoCon players last fall with 1,368 yards and 11 touchdowns. Miller averaged 5.7 YPC last season. He became Appalachian’s first 1,000-yard running back since Devon Moore in 2009. An interesting situation presents itself for the Mountaineers at the position entering the 2013 season, with redshirt freshman Ty’sean Holloway penciled in to be the lead running back for the Mountaineers this fall.
Ranking The SoCon’s 2013 Running Backs:
1. Dominique Swope (Georgia Southern)– The top returning running back in the SoCon is Buford, GA., product Dominique Swope. Swope took the league by storm in his first two seasons at Georgia Southern, despite battling some nagging injuries last season.
In his two seasons as an Eagle, Swope rushed for 2,269 yards and 23 touchdowns. Last season, he gained 1,246 yards and 16 TDs on 204 rush attempts, averaging an impressive 6.1 yards-per-carry.
2. Fabian Truss (Samford)– Many speculated as to the fate of the Samford running game after the graduation of Chris Evans. The answer to that question has been emphatic–FABIAN TRUSS.
In his junior season, Truss finished with 1,063 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns on 206 rush attempts. The past couple of seasons, Truss has been the top individual offensive weapon in the SoCon when you consider that he has led the SoCon in all-purpose yards. He had 1,978 all-purpose yards in 2012, with291 receiving and 624 yards kick return yards. Truss was the team’s second leading receiver, with 35 catches for 291 yards. Truss had a 97-yard kick return for a score in a game against Gardner-Webb last season. He has 2,211 career rushing yards coming into his senior campaign.
3. Darien Robinson (The Citadel)– Darien Robinson is coming off a season in which he become the first Citadel running back to rush for 1,000 or more yards since 2007. He averaged better than seven yards per carry en route to 1007 yards.
Robinson will once again be the lead back in the Bulldogs’ offense. He reached the 100-yard plateau in five ballgames last season, including 178 in a win over Elon. Robinson enters his senior season tied with Antonio Smith (1995-98) for eighth most yards in program history.
4. Donovan Johnson (Wofford)– Donovan Johnson now has a chance to make his mark in the Wofford backfield. He was a great compliment to Breitenstein in the Terriers’ backfield last fall, but now it will be up to him to shoulder the burden in the spread-bone attack.
Last season, Johnson posted 473 rushing yards and three touchdowns via 73 carries.
5. Hank McCloud (Furman)– McCloud is coming off a 2012 season which saw him rush for 521 yards and six touchdowns on 103 carries, averaging 5.1 YPC. He is a shifty, elusive back with deceptive strength on a 5-foot-8, 185-pound frame.
McCloud offered several glimpses of what kind of running back he could be in the future for the Paladins, particularly in his top rushing game in a win over Western Carolina. He went for 123 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries. He has 762 yards and seven touchdowns in his career.
6. Darius Ramsey (Western Carolina)– Darius Ramsey was one of the best young running backs in the FCS last season. This season, he should only increase his production in Mark Speir’s spread offense.
Ramsey is coming off a true freshman campaign for the Catamounts in which he lived up to billing as Speir’s prized recruit. He accrued over 500 yards.
Ramsey also proved to be a solid receiving option coming out of the backfield for the Catamounts, as he ranked third on the team in receptions, with 25 catches for 131 yards last season. Ramsey is elusive and has breakaway speed if he gets into the open field.
7. Kendrix Huitt (Chattanooga)– Chattanooga looks to dedicate more attention to the running game this fall, and it will be Kendrix Huitt, along with Marquis Green, expected to lead those re-dedicated efforts in the Mocs’ spread offense.
Huitt ended 2012 as the leading rushing back, finishing the campaign with 288 yards rushing and three rushing scores on 57 carries. Huitt is one of the best athletes in the Chattanooga offense heading into the 2013 season.
8. Ty’Sean Holloway (Appalachian State)– Other than Wofford, Appalachian State may have been hit the hardest by graduation at the running back position with the departure of Steven Miller. Miller was the seventh most productive individual ball carrier in school history, amassing 1,368 yards rushing on the season.
Holloway, a native of Asheville, N.C., was rated as a 2-star recruit by Rivals.com during his sensational during his prep career at Asheville High School. There, he rushed for 4,844 yards and 77 touchdowns in four seasons.
9. Tracey Coppedge (Elon)– No team has struggled to run the football more than Elon over the past few seasons, which has a lot to do with the high-octane, prolific passing game.
Tracey Coppedge will lead the Phoenix in a multifaceted ground game. He rushed for a team-leading 432 yards and a couple of touchdown as a freshman last season, and will be expected to lead the Phoenix’s three-headed monster at running back once again. The three-man backfield also include Truc Phan and Karl Bostick. Look for talented redshirt freshman B.J. Bennett to factor into the run game for Jason Swepson’s Phoenix as well.