Looking back, 1996 was a pretty pivotal year in my life. I had just survived my freshman year of high school, I finally eclipsed the six-foot height barrier and I passed driver’s training without running anyone over. Speaking of running people over, 1996 was also the last time Florida State had a 1,000 yard rusher. You read that right. It’s been 15 years since the great Warrick Dunn rushed for 1,180 in his senior season for the Noles. Gas was $1.23 per gallon and the Will Smith blockbuster Independence Day was the biggest movie of the year.
Since that time, FSU has had some great running backs come through the program. Travis Minor, Greg Jones, Leon Washington, Lorenzo Booker and Antone Smith (to name a few) all left their mark on the Seminole program, but each came short of the elusive 1,000 yard mark. Today, we’ll tackle the running backs. (See what I did there?)
Could this be the year the Noles see another 1,000 yard rusher?
Chances are probably not. I say this mainly due to the fact that the young offensive line is a big question mark heading into the season and their performance is crucial to the Noles establishing a solid running game. Jimbo Fisher also likes to use a variety of looks and backs, which might make it tough for anyone to break Warrick Dunn’s school record 1,242 yards set in his 1995 junior season. If anyone on the 2012 FSU squad is capable of coming close to Dunn, though, it has to be sophomore Devonta Freeman.
Freeman played a major role in FSU’s offense after starter Chris Thompson went out with a broken back against Wake Forest. Freeman, a highly touted running back from Miami Central High School, ran for nearly 600 yards and scored 8 TDs on the ground. He’s built a lot like former Alabama running back Trent Richardson, and word is that Freeman is a solid 5’9″, 210 pounds heading into fall camp. He had some back problems that kept him out of spring practice, but sources say that Freeman is 100 percent and ready to go.
Backing up Freeman is senior Chris Thompson, who broke two vertebrae in his back last October during the Wake Forest game. Thompson has shown blazing speed and agility while at FSU, with his best season coming in 2010 when he ran for 845 yards and 6 TDs during his sophomore year.
One of the most sought-after recruits of the 2011 class was Tampa (Plant) RB/LB James Wilder Jr. While Wilder saw limited action and production in his freshman season, look for his role to greatly increase in 2012. The former #3 overall high school prospect in the nation is a bruising back (6’2″ / 220 pounds) and his physical running style should wear out opposing defenses late in games. Wilder ran into a little trouble in the off-season, but a focused and “something to prove” mentality should serve him and the Seminoles well this season.
Essentially this will be a running-back-by-committee approach(a term never used in football, right?), with Freeman more than likely getting the most carries. Depending on how injuries play out, this is a pretty solid rotation that could possibly see the emergence of FSU’s first 1,000 yard rusher since Warrick Dunn. Hey, it could happen.
We didn’t talk much about the fullback position, so it works out that the key returner, Lonnie Pryor, happens to be one. I was debating whether or not to put Chris Thompson here, since coming back from a broken back and playing football again is an amazing accomplishment. I have no doubt that the team will rally around Thompson’s return, and his senior leadership will be extremely valuable if the Noles want to make a run at some hardware. I just feel that Pryor is headed for a big season, his best yet for the Garnet and Gold.
Pryor is very versatile, and was actually recruited as a running back coming out of high school. When asked to move to fullback, Pryor (6’0″ /229) jumped at the chance to help the team in any way possible. He is a punishing blocker and a strong runner with a quick burst of speed. He has drawn comparisons to former LSU H-Back Jacob Hester, who helped the Tigers win the BCS national championship in 2007 (Jimbo Fisher was Hester’s offensive coordinator for three seasons at LSU before coming to Florida State) and former Seminole great Edgar Bennett. With the various injury questions surrounding the other backs in the FSU rotation, I look for Pryor to step up, have a huge impact and be a difference maker in the Noles offensive attack.
Up until Tuesday, true freshman Mario Pender was a lock for key newcomer at the RB position this season. That’s when Pender, the top running back prospect in the state of Florida last season, was ruled out for the entire 2012 season due to a serious groin injury. Pender was slated as the fourth-string running back, but could have seen substantial playing time given the health concerns of FSU’s “Big Three.” According to coach Jimbo Fisher, the injury requires surgery and Pender will take a redshirt this fall. Also of note, redshirt freshman RB Eric Beverly has been declared medically disqualified due to another serious knee injury. Beverly will be able to remain on scholarship to earn his degree from Florida State, but he will not count toward the 85-man roster total.
Next Up on 8/13: Tight Ends