Competition stiff in crowded backfield

Aug. 11, 2014 By Andy Sneddon, CMUChippewas.com -

MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. - A transfer, a mainstay and plenty of holdovers and experience have created a problem – an envious one – in the Central Michigan backfield.

“We have a very deep group in the backfield,” running backs coach Gino Guidugli said. “It makes our job tough as a coaching staff, but it’s going to bring out the best in everybody.

“We’re still early in camp, and we’re looking forward to seeing how it plays out. As they say, the cream will rise to the top.”

It always does.

Among the frontrunners at running back are junior Saylor Lavallii, the incumbent who stepped into the starting job a year ago when Zurlon Tipton – now in training camp with the Indianapolis Colts – went down with an injury in the season-opening loss at Michigan.

Lavallii performed admirably, rushing for 807 yards (a 4.4-yard average) while appearing in all 12 games, eight of which were starts.

Thomas Rawls, a senior, has joined the mix after transferring from Michigan, where is best season came in 2012 when he totaled 242 yards and four touchdowns on 57 carries. Last season, he totaled 12 yards and a TD on three carries, all of it coming, ironically, in the win over CMU.

“He’s got a great combination of size and speed and he’s an aggressive runner,” Guidugli said of Rawls, a product of Flint Northern High School where he ran for more than 1,500 yards and scored 19 touchdowns as a senior. “He runs angry and knows how to carry his pads. He’s still working his way through the offense, but as he gets more comfortable I think you’ll see him play even faster.”

Also in the hunt for snaps at running back are senior Anthony Garland, along with sophomores Maurice Shoemaker-Gilmore and Martez Walker.

Shoemaker-Gilmore and Garland combined to rush for 420 yards (a 5.1-yard average) last season. Redshirt freshman Gary Jones and true freshmen Trent Grimes and Devon Spalding have also been repping at the position throughout camp.

“I’ve coached running backs before and they all want the ball,” coach Dan Enos said. “They all want 20 carries and if we all get them 20 carries there are going to be about 125 plays in the game and that doesn’t happen.

“So you have to get the right guys and when they get their turn they have to make the most of it. Right now we’re trying to get them all in different situations so we can evaluate them.”

Each, Guidugli said, brings a little something different to the table.

“Anthony Garland is probably the most powerful of our backs,” he said. “Maurice Shoemaker-Gilmore and Martez Walker both bring great speed and quickness and can change direction, and they can both catch the ball out of the backfield.

“I think we’ll be using a variety of backs as the season rolls around. Any program would like to go into a season knowing that they have three guys to rely on. I think by the end of it we’ll have five or six that we can count on.”

Garland is among a group vying for snaps in a wide-open competition at fullback.

Junior Christian Conley is the only name in the mix who appeared in a game at the position for CMU last season, and that was for a limited number of plays.

Also in the hunt are sophomore Joe Bacci, senior Doug Van Elslander, and redshirt freshman Trevor Thomas.

All, Guidugli said, are prototypes for the position: 230-250 pounds, strong, hardnosed, and block well.

“I think toughness is the biggest part,” he said. “We want someone who’s big and strong who can run up in there and pave the way for our tailbacks, but at the same time they have to have good enough hands so that they can help us in the passing game.”

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