UCF Football’s Top Five Questions for 2014: Can Will Stanback Carry the Load?

Well, we know he can do this:

While Storm Johnson ran his way to an early exit for the NFL, the 6-1, 225-pound Stanback was a revelation in his true freshman season. The Long Island native turned heads nationally with that delivery above against Rutgers, and parlayed his considerable work into a spot on the All-AAC second team. But when it comes to production in 2014, he has some big shoes to fill.

Johnson (213 rush, 1,139 yards, 5.3 YPC, 14 TDs) accounted for 55% of UCF’s rushing production last season, and Blake Bortles (272 yards, 6 TD) himself made up another 13% of the pie. Both are in Jacksonville now, with Johnson’s bolting for the NFL being a bit less expected than Bortles’ was. So here’s the big question:

3. Can Will Stanback carry the rushing load on offense in 2014?

UCF Rushing Graph
Data: UCFKnights.com

Stanback picked up 443 yards on 105 carries and scored six times in 2013, and tacked on 15 receptions for 186 yards and another TD catching balls out of the backfield. He spelled Johnson very well at times, but now he will be the featured guy in 2014, barring injury, and with that comes a different level of week-in-week-out punishment. He will have to shoulder a greater load than Johnson did last season, given UCF’s relative inexperience at quarterback and offensive line.

Stanback’s calling card coming into 2013 was his speed, but he had more than enough opportunities to put his power on display as well. He came up huge in big games, scoring two touchdowns each against Louisville and Houston, both pivotal wins in the Knights’ run to the Fiesta Bowl.

His goal: to become the greatest running back in UCF history. That’s pretty lofty company, given what players like Kevin Smith have been able to achieve under head coach George O’Leary. But Stanback said at Media Day that O’Leary was not pleased with his effort in the spring, and let him know about it.

“It was a wake-up call for me,” Stanback said. “I felt like I had to do things better, I wasn’t running as hard as I should have been. And I felt that I wasn’t in the right spot that I was before, and I am now.”

One key thing that Stanback said he learned from playing behind Johnson last year was, according to him, “Patience, taking my time, waiting for the holes to open up.”

Will Stanback UCF
Sophomore running back Will Stanback (center) will have to carry the bulk of the load for UCF on the ground in 2014.

“He taught me some things that I need to know from college football; how to look at certain things from a different perspective,” Stanback added.

Behind him on the depth chart, Cedric Thompson (RS-Jr.,6-0, 224 pounds), Micah Reed (Soph., 6-0, 214 pounds) and Dontravious Wilson (Soph., 5-10, 212 pounds) should provide some relief at times, just as Stanback did for Storm Johnson last year. The three of them combined for just 40 yards on 21 carries in 2013.

But make no mistake: Stanback is in the driver’s seat at tailback for the Knights in 2014. Given UCF’s inexperience at quarterback, the Knights will rely on him to move the chains and relieve the pressure on whomever is taking the snaps. If all goes well, 2014 could indeed vault Stanback into the historical conversation that he wants to be a part of.

If he takes to heart what Johnson taught him in 2013, and adds it to his already-well-established talent, then Stanback could make huge headlines for the Knights in 2014.