Position Preview – Running Backs and Fullbacks
Under Coach Crowe, Jacksonville State has been a team that thrives on running the football. The 2012 team should be well equipped to do so with a stable of talented running backs and two playmakers at fullback. The fact that Rashod Byers has moved from running back to corner speaks volumes about the staff’s perception of the talent at running back. Despite the talent, the Gamecocks will certainly miss one key player from the 2011 team, Calvin Middleton, who is now attempting to make it with the St. Louis Rams.
The Running Backs
The undisputed leader of the group is senior, Washaun Ealey, a transfer from Georgia. When Ealey arrived on campus last August, many expected him to immediately dominate. After all, he averaged over five yards per carry in the SEC and had many dominant games including a 5 TD performance against Kentucky. However, it took Ealey a while to get it going as he only averaged 55 yards per game in his first three outings as a Gamecock From that point forward though, things changed. Ealey broke the 100 yard barrier in five of the next six contests including a 217 yard performance against EKU. Reportedly, Ealey is in the best shape of his career and has dedicated himself to being a leader in the Gamecock backfield. Here’s something you may not have known- as good of a runner as Ealey is, he is just as highly regarded as a blocker.
No doubt, Ealey is the leader of the group and must be considered a front runner for All American honors. The battle for the #2 spot, however, is anything but settled as three true freshman will battle to back up Ealey. The most touted of the newcomers is a local product, Troymaine “Buster” Pope of Anniston. Pope was the #1 recruiting target for JSU and the staff’s hard work paid off when the runner up for Mr. Alabama football inked with the Cocks in February. Since arriving on campus, Pope has already shown flashes of his high school brilliance.
The players pushing Pope for the job of lead understudy to Ealey are Ladarius Rodgers from Leeds and Miles Jones from Alatoona High School in Georgia. While Rodgers did not get much love from the star givers at Rivals and Scout, he dominated on the field rushing for 2,185 yards his senior season and leading his team to a state championship. Miles Jones put up similar numbers, rushing for 2,142 yards and leading his team to an undefeated regular season and three playoff wins. Earvin McKenzie will provide depth.
No FCS school has a more intriguing, talented pair of fullbacks than JSU. Based on his Spring game performance, Jerry Slota, has to be considered the front runner for the position. Perhaps the first player from Colorado to ever suit up for JSU, Slota is a physical, hard nosed player that thrives on contact. JSU likes to throw to the fullback and Slota also has great hands.
Slota will likely split time with the pride of Demopolis, Alabama, Coot James. James, a 3 star prospect, will be a home run threat from the fullback position. In addition to being a powerful blocker, Coot is a capable runner who rushed for 2,523 yards his junior year of high school. Thus, JSU will probably play James in a hybrid running back-full back role in much the same way they employed Calvin Middleton last year.
All in all, JSU is long on talent in the backfield, but short on experience. Hopefully, Ealey can stay healthy and fresh as the featured back and a star will emerge from the young contenders.
Overall Grade: A-