Courtesy: Tim Fitzgerald/CMU Athletics
CMU Spring Football Spotlight: Running Backs

MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. – In 2012, the Central Michigan running backs, led by Second Team All-MAC performer Zurlon Tipton, played a major role in the team’s success. That trend should undoubtedly continue in 2013. For Gino Guidugli, who took over as running backs coach at the beginning of the spring season, the abilities and depth of the unit lend credence to that notion.

“I feel like I have inherited a talented group. Zurlon Tipton, who rushed for nearly 1,500 yards and close to 20 touchdowns last year, is back. The guys behind him are just as good but lack the experience. Saylor Lavallii, Anthony Garland, Martez Walker, and Tim Phillips all bring something different to the table and we should be able to utilize each one of their strengths to help us win this year.”

To declare that Zurlon Tipton had one of the greatest rushing seasons in Central Michigan program history in 2012 is no overstatement. In his junior season, Tipton amassed 1,492 rushing yards, ranking fourth in the CMU record book and is the most by a Chippewa running back in 16 years. He got stronger as the season progressed, recording seven consecutive 100-yard rushing games to end the season while scoring 13 of his 19 total touchdowns.

Expectations are high for Tipton to build on that success in 2013 and he is ready to deliver, according to Guidugli.

“There’s no question that Zurlon should be First Team All-MAC this year. Hopefully, he can lead the MAC in rushing. I think the thing that makes Zurlon so good is his work ethic. You see him out there always finishing plays, going hard in practice, and I think he sets a good example for the younger guys in our group.”

Pushing for increased playing time are Saylor Lavallii and Anthony Garland.

Lavallii showed promise in spelling Tipton at times in his freshman campaign, rushing for 263 yards (4.6 avg.) and two touchdowns.

“I think Saylor has got great vision, he’s got great hands coming out of the backfield, and he works just as hard as Zurlon does,” said Guidugli. “I think he is an all-around back. There are not too many things he doesn’t do very well.”

Garland totaled 189 yards on the ground in 2012, including 102 in the season opening win over Southeast Missouri State.

Saylor Lavallii pushes Zurlon Tipton and Anthony Garland pushes Saylor Lavallii,” said Guidugli. “I think that is a good balance to have in our group, where each guy is pushing the other for playing time. They all realize that there is only one back in the backfield, so every day in practice they try to prove they are the best back. It’s healthy competition, and makes our group a good group.”

At the fullback position, senior Adam Fenton is leading the pack. He played in all 13 games in 2012, starting four. While Tyler Lombardo, recovers from an injury suffered on the first play of the game in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, senior Ben Masztak has filled in capably. Christian Conley and Ryan Petro, a converted linebacker, are also progressing with good spring camps.

With a new quarterback taking over the reigns of the CMU offense this season, Guidugli believes the running backs can do a lot to smooth the transition and help maintain the unit’s success.

“I think protecting the quarterback and running the football will be that more important. Hopefully, we can dominate up front and our running backs can get off to a good start, and the quarterback will have to manage the game. They definitely have the talent to carry the offense but, hopefully, our running backs and offensive linemen put them in a situation where we won’t have to lean on them to win games right away.”

The goals set forth by Guidugli for the running backs this spring season and moving forward are fundamental but, if mastered, could ultimately be the difference between a win and a loss.

“I told the guys going in that the emphasis this spring was on ball security and protecting the quarterback. Those are our two points we will emphasize throughout spring ball, in training camp, and during the season. I think their talent will take care of the rest, but if they do those things, I think that is what will make us a winning ball club.”