2009 PREVIEW – THE RUNNING BACKS AND FULLBACKS
2008 – The Year in Review
A trademark of the Jack Crowe era at Jacksonville State has been a smash mouth, powerful running game. For years, the Gamecock faithful were spoiled by one dominant runner after another. In 2003, it was Kory Chapman. Oscar Bonds picked up where he left off in 2004 and Clay Green led the charge in 2005 – 2006.
Inexplicably, there was a significant drop-off in 2007. Tailback by committee simply did not work and the Gamecocks did not have a runner gain over 510 yards on the season.
The running game returned to form under Coach Jimmy Ogle’s leadership in 2008. The Gamecocks finished second in the OVC in rushing led by hard nosed, downhill running Daniel Jackson who averaged over 80 yards per game (a particularly solid effort considering that he only ran for 29 yards against Georgia Tech). The Gamecocks statistics were all the more impressive considering that now departed Alabama transfer Tremayne Coger was injured for much of the first half of the year and then mysteriously left the team. The speed that Coger showed a glimpse of during the UTC game would have been a welcome addition to the Gamecock attack had Coger been able to stick it out at JSU. The Cocks also missed Sean Green who also left the team for personal reasons and were hurt by mid-season injuries to fullbacks Ronald Murray and Alphonso Freeney.
In my view, the most inspiring effort of the year came on the last drive of the season against Tennessee State in a game the Gamecocks thought they had to win to advance to the playoffs (you know the rest of that story). In any event, the Gamecocks took over with 5:38 remaining in the game and moved the ball 84 yards in 14 plays. It was simply inspired, hard nosed running aided by outstanding line play. The Gamecocks wanted it more.
Unfortunately, Jackson, the leader of the reinvigorated 2008 running attack is out of eligibility. If the Gamecocks can find another player with Jackson’s heart and desire, they should be ok. Coach Jimmy Ogle was kind enough to spend a few moments with me to talk about the upcoming year. Here’s a look at what’s in the cupboard at running back and fullback for 2009.
2009 – Preview
The coaching staff feels good about the returning players, but must find the “go-to” guy for 09. Regardless of which back it is, there is no doubt the running game will benefit from a veteran offensive line, including four returning tight ends that have played in games.
A leading candidate to replace Jackson is Brandon George, a redshirt sophomore from Georgia football powerhouse Parkview High School. George’s high school career is a bit of a mystery – he did not appear on many recruiting lists and did not rack up big statistics for Parkview. However, George did not waste much time seizing the spotlight when given a chance to shine for the Cocks. In only his 4th carry from scrimmage, George showed off his high school track skills and took it 57 yards to the house against SEMO. George was solid the rest of the year but did not get much opportunity to show his wares with Jackson getting most of the running attempts when Perrilloux was not airing it out. Coach Ogle on George: “He is going to do nothing but get better . . . he wants to work as hard as he can every day . . . and he can run fast. . . Brandon has the ability if he breaks he can outrun some people.”
Aside from George, there is less reason for optimism among returning players. The red shirt will come off Nick Johnson from Fort Payne after a promising high school career, but time will only tell how he will perform on a bigger stage. Coach Ogle on Johnson: “Nick’s just a [redshirt] freshman. I’m excited to see him perform this year. We have to get him some confidence. . . . Nick spent most of the fall on our scout team and did some [good] things . . . Nick is going to contribute to our football team.”
Andrecus Lindley, who garnered considerable playing time last year despite not being on the Gamecock roster until August, also returns. While the name alone should be worth a few big runs, Lindley was only able to muster 73 yards on the season. Lindley seemed to run a bit tentatively in 08’ but my feeling is that with a full year under the tutelage of JSU’s outstanding strength and conditioning staff, Lindley will be much improved.
Given the dearth of experience at running back, the Cocks may look to fullbacks to carry an increased load or possibly move to tailback. A leading candidate in that department will be sophomore Calvin Middleton whom Coach Crowe described as “the best player we have ever signed at [fullback.]” Middleton got a lot of snaps as a freshman averaging 4.7 yards per carry, but with only sixteen carries. Coach Ogle on Middleton: “he has great vision and quickness.”
Alphonso Freeney is also returning. A bruising runner, Feeney ran for 169 yards on 29 carries in limited action last season. Coach Ogle on Freeney: “He makes plays with the ball and is a big part of what we do.”
The Gamecocks added a speedster to the mix in January when Jamal Young enrolled at the Friendliest Campus. Young is only 5’6 but rushed for over 1000 yards for Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College and was in the top 20 nationally among juco runners. Young’s size may prevent him from being an every down player, but if you want to see a playmaker check out his highlights on you tube. Coach Ogle on Young: “He’s a little guy, he’s tough, he’s physical and he can really run fast. He’s very quick.”
Is Help on the Way?
Credit goes to the coaching staff for bringing in a phenomenal class of backfield recruits. There is no question that these guys can help JSU win games in the future, but a couple have injuries to overcome.
Donald Prince, Aliceville High School. 5-11, 200. 4.5/40 Prince averaged over 200 yards per game his senior season (that is not a misprint) and was named to the West Alabama All Star squad. His outstanding play attracted interest from a host of SEC schools, including Auburn and Alabama. Unfortunately, a devastating knee injury ended his senior season and his hopes of signing with Alabama, but Jacksonville State’s coaching staff did not waiver. Prince told the Commercial Dispatch: “I feel like they really believe in me. I appreciate them for the chance they took on me. They didn’t have to do so I really appreciate it.” While Prince was quoted in the same article as saying he hoped to participate in two-a-days, it seems that a red or grayshirt is more likely given the youth and his injury. If he plays, look out – he’s a home run hitter with a hi-light film that’s a mile long.
Richard Freelon, Bruce H.S., Bruce, Mississippi. 6-0, 200. 4.5/40. Like Prince, another running back that seemed to be on the verge of signing with a major FBS college. Freelon was a first team all state player in football rich Mississippi and had recruiting interest from Ole Miss, Mississippi State and BYU. Freelon averaged over 200 y/p/g as a junior and rushed for 1756 his senior season. He was named Offensive Player of the Year by the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal. ESPN.go.com said: “Freelon could be one of the most underrated backs in the Southeast this year. . . A very sudden runner turning up field quickly.” He was rated the #36 player in Mississippi by Bulldogjunction.com. Freelon is purportedly academically qualified. Hopefully, Mr. Freelon can contribute early and give JSU the speed burst out of the backfield it was missing last year. There is no doubt that he has a chance to play as a freshman.
Jahron Brown. East Paulding, H.S., 6-1, 215 4.6/40. Brown is a bruising fullback from the Metro Atlanta area who originally committed to Arkansas and was rated the #6 fullback in America by Rivals. Brown was recruited by Clemson, Louisville, Georgia Tech and Mississippi State. Scout.com had this to say about Brown: “A big, bruising running back that has the agility to play running back as well as fullback. Brown has excellent power and flexibility to pull through, around and over would be tacklers.” Brown is recovering from surgery, but if healthy could help the Gamecocks next fall. It seems that an FBS transfer at running back could really help JSU. There were rumors that we might get a transfer from Alabama, but that seems less likely now. You never know what might happen in the next couple of months. Last year a pretty good quarterback found his way to Jacksonville.
More to come…
We’ll take a quick look at how spring practice is going, then on to preview the Offensive Line!